Get ready. The United States seems primed to undergo the largest experiment ever pitting public versus private education. Never mind that similar smaller scaled experiments, such as the 20 plus year Milwaukee’s School Choice Program, and voucher programs from Cleveland to Louisiana to Chile, have all produced results ranging from mediocre to sub-par; Donald Trump’s recent announcement of Betsy DeVos as head of the Department of Education has indicated a new scale to this battle.
DeVos is one of the central soldiers of a small army of wealthy conservatives who have relentlessly fought to funnel funding from public to private, under the guise of giving parents greater choice. She seems to have no experience in education, other than her part in this long battle, detailed here. Despite losing the overwhelming majorities of these battles in the form of failed voter initiatives, and legal challenges, a small handful of wealthy conservatives have used their clout and incredible persistence to continue the fight. And now, with DeVos as the key leader of American education, and with the Tea Party in control of vast swathes of America, from congress to the state legislatures, to the presidency, the voucher movement appears to have the wind at it’s sails like never before.
On the surface It sure sounds like a nice idea that if you don’t like your kids’ current schools, you should have the ability to enroll them in a different school – without moving yourself – but this notion consistently whitewashes the fact that what tends to bring many public schools down are the requirement that they educate the less advantaged, from the disabled to the poor. So what’s wrong with vouchers? Here’s a quick rundown:
- There’s no accountability. There are no voter chosen school boards, no mandated reporting of test scores, and multiple reports of corruption that so frequently follows a lack of accountability.
- There’s no proof they work. Earlier reports of their efficacy in raising student achievement have not held up under recent scrutiny. Now the consensus is that there’s no good evidence supporting them, and the research that has been done has not only not been able to weed out extraneous variables, it may even suggest that public education is better. And, not only is there absolutely no evidence that they’re cost effective, what evidence there is suggests otherwise.
- They often use public funds to support religious institutions. This article excellently describes how the racist origins of America’s voucher movement have come to be intertwined with the Religious Right’s more recent acrimony against public school’s secularization.
- They’re discriminatory. Private schools can always choose who (and critically, who not) to accept. Get rid of this allowance, and any private school immediately gains the problems inherent in public schools.
Few come out and say it, but many educators have experienced first hand the hostility of some whose taxpayer dollars have to go toward special education. Ultimately, this discrimination is what has fueled much of the voucher movement. Many people continue to be outraged that “my money” is used to help “other people,” without “my consent.” The voucher battles are just another in a long list in the overall culture wars, the ultimate crux of which continues to be: Do we want to live in an inclusive or exclusive society? Of late, the allies of exclusivity have been organized, powerful, loud, and winning.