Republicans Pursue Vouchers and Privatized Education
Saturday, March 4, 2017
The Choices in Education Act 2017 (HR 610), introduced Jan. 23 and now in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which has provided federal funds to address inequities in public schools since 1965. In its place, block grants would go to states that have adopted voucher plans, enabling parents to use public funds to enroll their children in any public or private school. While over 100 bills are now in this committee and most will die there, the fact that this one embodies Secretary Betsy DeVos’s vision for education suggests it will likely be taken up.
This bill is misguided for several reasons. First, while evidence should guide policy, evidence does not show that voucher programs consistently improve student learning. Mark Dynarski of the Brookings Institute analyzed the research in a 2016 issue of Evidence Speaks Reports. He found mixed results: while some students benefited from the New York and Washington, D.C., programs, the same cannot be said of the Milwaukee program. The two most recent and largest studies found that public school students who received vouchers to attend private schools in Indiana and Louisiana, both with statewide voucher programs, actually achieved worse than their counterparts in public schools. Dynarski suspects one reason is that public schools have improved over the last few years, closing what previously had been an achievement gap between them and private schools.
A second reason this bill is misguided is that it requires states to adopt voucher programs, whether desired or not, in order to receive federal funds. California’s voters rejected private school voucher initiatives twice (1993 and 2000). Further, California’s Constitution prohibits using public funds to support “sectarian or denominational” schools, or schools not under public control. So, HR 610 would force California to change its Constitution to enable a plan voters have rejected, in order to prevent school districts, particularly in poorer communities, from losing federal funds.
Currently federal funds provide between 1 percent and 9 percent of the budgets of school districts in Monterey County. The largest earmark is for Title I, which funds services for students from low-income families. Title I as it has operated has shown mixed results. In a 2015 issue of Evidence Speaks Reports, Dynarski and Kainz suggest one problem is that the money is spread too thinly. About half of all school districts qualify, resulting in Title I adding only about 5 percent more money per student, not enough for robust services targeted to the neediest students. Another problem is that much of the money is not spent on interventions that have demonstrated making a difference, such as an intensive program in Chicago that is producing large achievement gains in mathematics among high Choosing Democracy: Republicans Pursue Vouchers and Privatized Education: