VOUCHERS: FRIEDMAN’S PLAN
It has never been about poor kids…
The “money follows the child” philosophy has been a decades long excuse to divert tax money to private corporations and to provide tax breaks to individuals who send their children to private and religious schools.
The American Federation for Children (AFC), chaired by Amway billionaire Betsy DeVos, estimates that vouchers and voucher-like tax-credit schemes currently divert $1.5 billion of public money to private schools annually. But that is not enough. By expanding “pro-school choice legislative majorities” in state houses across the country the organization hopes that $5 billion a year will be siphoned out of public schools by 2020 and applied to for-profit and religious schools.
With vouchers gaining momentum nationwide, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is meeting in San Diego today [June 22, 2015], has decided to drop the pretense that vouchers have anything to do with social and racial equity, and is now pushing vouchers for the middle class—a project which, if pursued enough in numbers, will progressively erode the public school system and increase the segregation of students based on race and economic standing.
Those supporting vouchers don’t see anything wrong with draining money from the public schools. In fact, the goal is the destruction of public schools entirely.
So what exactly was the brave new world Milton Friedman envisioned when he first floated the idea of school vouchers? While lecturing rightwing state lawmakers at a 2006 ALEC meeting, Friedman jumped at the opportunity to explain what his vision was all about. It had nothing whatsoever to do with helping “indigent” children; no, he explained to thunderous applause, vouchers were all about “abolishing the public school system.”
Here is an excerpt from Friedman’s ALEC speech:
…How do we get from where we are to where we want to be—to a system in which parents control the education of their children? Of course, the ideal way would be to abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it.
If you agree with Milton Friedman’s plan to do away with public schools, then you and I will never agree.
WHY NOT VOUCHERS?
I come to the discussion of vouchers with the following assumption…that public schools supported by the public, is a common good.
I agree with President John Adams that…
The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.
It is to our benefit as a society, that our citizens be educated and it’s our obligation to educate all of our citizens…not just those who have enough money.
Vouchers don’t improve education for everyone. They don’t help poor children do better in school because the problem isn’t failing schools…it’s poverty and the failure of politicians to deal with it.
In An Inconvenient Truth, Vice President Al Gore said,
There are good people who are in politics in both parties, who hold this at arm’s length because if they acknowledge it and recognize it, then the moral imperative to make big changes is inescapable.
He was referring, of course, to acknowledging global climate change, but the same can be said for child poverty in America. America’s politicians are too busy fighting each other in a partisan struggle for donor capital and reelection, to worry about actually doing anything substantive about child poverty. It’s easier to label America’s public schools as “failures” and blame the schools, “bad teachers,” unmotivated students, or lazy parents.
The political fight results in vouchers…a false hope for parents of children in poverty. Instead of supporting a public school system which accepts all students, vouchers send public funds to private schools which, when faced with hard-to-educate students, often send them right back to the underfunded public schools.
For one, vouchers divert much-needed resources away from public schools and re-route it to private and religious schools…
Secondly, vouchers would send federal taxpayer dollars to private schools that are in no way accountable to the public…
…unlike public schools, private schools do not need to serve all students…
…they do not improve student achievement. Study after study has shown that vouchers do not pay off for students or taxpayers…
“Starting next school year, any parent in Nevada can pull a child from the state’s public schools and take tax dollars with them, giving families the option to use public money to pay for private or parochial school or even for home schooling… Nevada’s law is singular because all of the state’s 450,000 K-12 public school children—regardless of income—are eligible to take the money to whatever school they choose…”
“…will cause a deficit for the local district, given the fixed costs of operating the school system for all children… ESAs also create instability in district and school budgets. Districts will not know how many students will exit and how much money will be taken out of the budget during the school year. This unpredictability will make it difficult to manage public school budgets, as local administrators won’t know how many teachers and staff to hire… or how to allocate funds to provide sufficient resources to schools throughout the school year…”
“Unlike Nevada public schools, the private and religious schools accepting ESA funds are not prohibited from discriminating based on race, gender or disability…”
Ever since the Obama administration filed suit to freeze Louisiana’s school voucher program, high-ranking Republicans have pummeled the president for trapping poor kids in failing public schools. The entire House leadership sent a letter of protest. Majority Leader Eric Cantor blistered the president for denying poor kids “a way into a brighter future.”
And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal accused the president of “ripping low-income minority students out of good schools” that could “help them achieve their dreams.”
But behind the outrage is an inconvenient truth: Taxpayers across the U.S. will soon be spending $1 billion a year to help families pay private school tuition — and there’s little evidence that the investment yields academic gains.
Rita Solnet, president of the Florida chapter of Parents Across America, said:
“Voucher schools will not be held to Florida’s Common Core curriculum nor will they have to deliver its associated, highly trumpeted, high stakes tests that 2.6 M other FL students endure. No merit pay, no need to pursue credentialed teachers, no accountability for $3 billion of public tax dollars.
“Had the Governor not signed SB 850 today, the voucher program would have still grown to nearly $1 billion anyways with the escalators built in.
“Something is very wrong when the agency services 59K students in primarily religious schools and they admittedly provided false numbers for an alleged wait list. Something is very wrong when their non profit president is on video admitting to giving away a million dollars each year to legislators who favor voucher programs.
“Siphoning $3 billion away from 2.6 M students is shameful.”
In Cleveland, a similar but now completed study that followed the same students over time showed dispiriting results from that city’s voucher program. Tracking the scores of students who began kindergarten in the 1997-98 school year through their sixth-grade year in 2003-04, Indiana University researchers found no significant differences in overall achievement, reading, or math scores between students who used vouchers and those who stayed in public schools, after taking into account socioeconomic differences.
Voucher dollars cause confusion for public schools
“The issue is not the money as much as the responsibility for management of the Individualized Education Plan,” said Superintendent Phil Downs, noting that the money is intended to support a student not enrolled in his district. The situation places public schools in the position of taking legal and financial responsibility for another schools’ students, and diminishing the decision-making authority of the private school…
…School choice supporters enthusiastically embrace the idea of money following the child. It’s time for Indiana to consider applying the concept to special education funds, provided the necessary legal and financial responsibilities also follow those dollars to voucher schools.
As voucher participation grows, the number of students attending private schools at taxpayer expense has grown from 3,911 to more than 29,000, including an increasing number of students who never attended public school. While their families qualify for a generous tax break, the families of children in public schools do not.
“Vouchers don’t promote student achievement,” he said. “When you are taking public dollars and using them to subsidize decision making, you want those public dollars to generate a public good. Even supporters of the voucher system have come to the realization that vouchers don’t support student achievement.”
…according to the law, you are allowed to use choice scholarship (money) for any education-related expenses. That could be for building, technology. You can use it for any of those things.
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.