Education News

Despite Trump-DeVos claims, vouchers offer false promise to rural students

by Félix Pérez; image courtesy of Mark Goebel

Despite the national marketing campaign by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, vouchers take scarce funding away from public schools, where 90 percent of students attend, and create two different education systems — one private and one public — funded by taxpayers. The risks inherent in vouchers are especially pronounced in rural areas, where there are no or few private school options, and schools often serve as the social center of the community and the sole provider of critical services such as summer lunch and programs, food pantries and sports.


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Private and religious school vouchers have received increasing attention in the past few months as Trump and DeVos have traveled the country extoling their virtues. Unmentioned in their sales pitch is that vouchers would be particularly harmful in rural communities and small towns, where removing funding would destabilize already financially challenged public school systems, and transportation to the nearest private voucher school — which can be an hour away or more — must be paid for and arranged by the student’s family.

The Trump-DeVos voucher proposal’s has drawn opposition from key federal elected officials, including U.S. Senator Patty of Murray, who is the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. In a memo to her Senate colleagues, Murray wrote:

In many rural areas, there are no, or very few, private school options. Students in rural areas often have to travel very far to attend the nearest school. Without taxpayer funded transportation, arranging private transportation would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for many families in rural areas. For these students and families, their public school is the only real option and claims to the contrary only amount to a ‘false choice.’

According to the Center for American Progress, vouchers are highly unlikely to work and could decimate the public system in nearly 9,000 sparse school districts that have four or fewer schools. After excluding charter schools and regional agencies that are legally considered school districts, 85 percent of the 11,200 regular school districts fall into these two categories of sparse and average districts (a unified school district with five to eight schools, an elementary-school-only district with four to five schools, or a secondary-school-only district with three to five schools) where vouchers are entirely or more than likely to be unworkable, concluded CAP.

Nearly 9 million of the 50 million public school students across the country attend rural schools, finds a forthcoming report from the Rural School and Community Trust. “For rural schools, the emphasis on school choice means little because the closest  schools are impossibly far away. Rural educators worry that their schools will gain very little from the school-choice model. If anything, it could siphon away critical funding,” states the organization.

In a Washington Post article using Maine and Alaska as examples of states where rural districts are common, reporters Jose A. DelReal and Emma Brown summarized the shortcomings of the Trump-DeVos proposal this way: “Washington has long designed education policy to deal with urban and suburban challenges, often overlooking the unique problems that face rural schools. . . With a new administration in the White House that prefers “school-choice” approaches — favoring charter schools and private-school vouchers so parents can opt out of public schools and bring taxpayer dollars with them — the nation’s rural schools are left to wonder about their fate.”

Maine and Alaska are not alone by any stretch when it comes to states with a large number of rural schools and districts and few private schools. In Texas, for example, where the state House voted to kill vouchers last week, fewer than half (134) of the state’s 253 counties have even a single private school, and only 74 counties have a private high school. In North Carolina, which has a voucher program, four of 12 counties surveyed (Ashe, Polk, Surry, Washington) have no private schools; five have one each (Alleghany, Lenoir, Lincoln, Stokes, Watauga); two have two each (Madison, Transylvania); and one (WIlkes) has three. There are only a handful of private high schools in the North Carolina counties surveyed, and many of the private schools accept only a limited number of students.

A USA Today column written by Max Marchitello explained why a proposal “centered on giving parents more educational choice simply does not apply to these (rural) communities.” He wrote, “A school reform program predicated on choice cannot work for the vast majority of rural communities because most rural school districts are too small to afford more than one school at a given grade span. In fact, many rural districts are more concerned about keeping the school they have than about adding a new school.”

Concern over the Trump-DeVos voucher proposal’s effect on rural schools and DeVos’ lack of understanding of the needs of rural schools was a major factor why DeVos was the first cabinet nominee in U.S. history to require the vice president to cast a tie-breaking vote. Two Republican senators from states that are highly rural, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against confirming DeVos.

10 responses to “Despite Trump-DeVos claims, vouchers offer false promise to rural students

  1. As a public educator I’m tired of the misunderstanding of public education. We work harder than most to educate all students no matter their background. I would like someone with some experience in public education to have some input into these monumental decisions. If you’ve never worked in a public school classroom you don’t know what we need or what we’re doing. “School choice” would destroy public education and leave students with disabilities out in the cold with minimal or no options. Look at what’s happened in areas where they have “school choice.” Listen to what parents have to say about it. It’s not a “liberal thing” to want all children to have a decent education, it’s a human thing.

  2. You neither allow nor understand divergent opinions on this issue, so it is pointless to express mine, but understand that the so called liberal thinking on this issue has some serious shortcomimgs that 1) impair students learning 2) keep it at the level of their teachers which is a function of their unions and administrators, and lastly set back public eduation as a viable force to improve student learning.

  3. Unfortunately, the GOP is not the only party doing this. We really need to get all the money out. In the meantime, we need to look at who is funding every candidate for public office.

  4. “That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” Noam Chomsky

    1. Yes, this is true and is what happens, yet it happens because it can. It is the signature of not being responsible. In the public schools, too many parents are relying on the public school model to educate the child, when it is understood that the public schools, by their very design cannot be an education. Building a general memorized scaffold of information, is really a set body of information memorized ONLY, thereby lacking any real practical applicative development. Thus, it is really the parents who educate the child, and always has been. If parents are not engaged, then the system becomes what it has become, a dysfunctional system leading to an increase of lack, which is what is the emerging behaviors are called ADHD, among others. Why we thought we could know a tiger in a zoo, is beyond me. Thus we allowed this, and the controls that defund to implement change, with greater and greater loss of choice, are a continued sequence of a lack of self responsibility. It is time to be responsible, and restore common sense about the world around us and make choices that support what is best, which means changing behaviors that are not one’s best self. We all know what that is. Perhaps, education being moved to the internet, is a good thing.

    2. Noam’s got it alright. The only thing I would add is that the first step in this charade is to float the narrative that the public schools are “broken.” “Everybody knows,” “They say,” “Studies show,” etc. Like any Big Lie, if it’s repeated often enough people come to believe it. Then logic flows…schools are broken, they can’t be fixed so what’s the point of throwing good money after bad so let’s defund them.
      Well, nothing’s perfect, but if you’re reading this the schools haven’t completely failed.
      –Cynthia Strecker

    1. The GOP (Guardians Of Plutocracy) cons our decent folk for their vote by waving publicly the banner of Godliness, conservative Norman Rockwell visages, lower taxes, red white and blue, gun rights, and anti-government angst spoken in Christianese (which costs them nothing and gains them everything during elections), while privately, their true love is reserved for their categorical imperative; $MONEY$ and the profit motive. To confirm this, just look at how they vote.
      They have made political careers from strenuously demonizing the Federal and State Government institutions publicly, condemning them for over-reach, intrusiveness, and being too big, etc. In truth, the object of their rancor is the government’s regulatory and consumer advocacy role in constraining the will of corporatists to turn a profit at all cost. Publicly they bray loudly with feigned “heartfelt pain” for the plight of the poor overburdened “tax payer” they throw under the bus every time in favor of larger profit margins and tax breaks for the rich, Wall Street, and mega-corporations that fund their campaigns. Their use of disingenuous propaganda would have made Joseph Goebbels blush!
      This is particularly ironic in view of the fact that our government, which was designed to represent “we the people,” has been over-run by Wall Street and Corporate $MONEY’$ corrupting influence, which funds, to a greater degree, the election of the profit protecting Senators and Representatives from the GOP, who advocate even more grotesque and further CORRUPTION of moneyed interest! All this, while they advance their political careers by demonizing our government, which GOP policy has corrupted! Let that twisted shit sink in!

    2. The constitution guarantees the right, not a state granted privilege, to carry firearms. Not sure what that has to do with anything other than liberals’ irrational fear of guns.

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