There are many things about education reform that public school parents should be angry about; and rightly so. Every aspect of it is designed to destroy the public school system in favor of privatization leaving corporate reformers with the ability to control curriculum and eradicate the free-thinker from our society.
One of the facets of education reform is the highly controversial voucher system. Why is it controversial? Let’s start with the beginning. I touched the surface of it in A Devious Bi-Partisan Effort. In short, white reformers in Prince Edward County, Virginia attempted to skirt the Brown vs Board of Education (1954) decision by abandoning public schools and creating a voucher system to send their children to private schools that would systematically exclude blacks. For a period of five years, public schools were abandoned; until the vouchers were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In the end, the whites still won, and the blacks lost. During the five years, the local tax system to support public schools was abandoned; therefore, there were no funds available to support public education.
Despite the precedent that was set in 1959, Louisiana passed a law allowing vouchers to be issued to parents of children in low performing schools. The law was quickly found unconstitutional because it violated the State constitution in regards to the MFP formula which determines per pupil spending in Louisiana public schools. Never fear, though. State Superintendent, John White, is a clever man. He found a way to fund vouchers through the department’s budget, instead of the MFP.
In the 2016 legislative session, our newly elected governor and the members of the Louisiana House and Senate were faced with the largest budget deficit in Louisiana’s history. Among the many line items of the budget that suffered cuts were the vouchers. Governor John Bel Edwards repeatedly stated that while voucher amounts would be reduced, no voucher student would lose their voucher. In the end, he kept his word, but in addition, no new vouchers would be funded. This meant that the 440+ new students anticipating a voucher in the coming year; wouldn’t get one.
Anticipating that the vouchers would be reduced, Supt. White began to urge private schools to accept the students with the reduced funding. For the most part, the private schools cooperated. Little by little, the waiting list dwindled down. Some vouchers went unused and were redisbursed. Some private schools agreed to take students with the hope of getting funded in the second half of the year. Still, 362 students remained unfunded.
In the midst of a natural disaster, almost in conjunction with it, White introduced a plan to eliminate the waiting list. While unprecedented flood waters engulfed 11 parishes with hundreds of schools and thousands of students, he pleaded and urged private schools to accept the voucher students with no funding and no promise of funding. Nearly 80% of the waiting list students, in parishes unaffected by the flood, were accepted.
This takes me to the part about private school parents. Why do private schools exist, and why do parents choose them? First, let’s acknowledge that when a parent makes the decision to send their child to a private school, they are doing it at an expense above and beyond the tax burden that we all contribute to as taxpayers. They do this for many reasons, but among the most common are:
- Private schools generally produce high-performing, college bound students.
- Specialized education that often includes religion.
- Smaller student population and stronger community/parental involvement
- Private schools are generally exempted from excessive testing, including state assessments.
These are just a few reasons, but reason enough. When a private school decides to accept vouchers, all of this is subject to change. What exactly does it do to a private school?
- In order to receive voucher funds, the school agrees to State accountability, which includes statewide assessment and implementation of standards, such as Common Core.
- The students attending on vouchers are coming from a low performing schools and may, or may not be, low performers, as well.
- The dynamics of the student population change drastically. There are many expenses related to private school above and beyond tuition. The have and have-nots become more pronounced.
- The private school essentially becomes a public school becoming available and accessible to any student who secures a voucher.
In surveying the costs associated with attending private schools in my area, I learned that tuition for elementary aged students ranges from $3000-$4500 per year with tuition for high school students ranging from $6500-$8000. Even taking into consideration that private schools that are run by churches offer discounted rates to their congregation, that is still steep.
Now, imagine you are the parent that stays on the overtime job, or holds down two jobs, to send your child to private school, but now, the parent living in a failing school zone across town, or even down the street, can get a voucher from the state for approximately $4500 and your private school will take them. Better yet, now, they have been asked to take them with no funding. Why does their child get to go to your child’s private school on your tax dollar while you work overtime to pay for it? I can assure you, it isn’t about quality education for under-privileged students. Studies have shown that voucher students don’t perform better at private schools. It isn’t about parental choice. It is about eliminating the obvious choices of public education, or private education, in favor of privatizing the education system to the point that all schools will be publicly funded and privately operated, and nothing will set your private school apart from public schools.
If I were a private school parent, I would be furious! You should be, too!
Recommended reading on School Vouchers.