Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Stop Taxpayer Funded School Vouchers

The federal government is considering whether or not to reauthorize taxpayer funded school vouchers in the District of Columbia. Vouchers are a bad idea because fundamentally they don't "fix" the underlying problem.

They allow some students the option to attend other schools, usually private religious schools, at taxpayer expense. In evaluating these programs over the years the research indicates the performance of "voucher students" isn't significantly better than that of their peers attending the public school. In other words, instead of actually fixing the problem the federal government would rather offer a "feel good solution" that in reality is no solution at all.

Here is what you can do:

Act NOW to Stop School Vouchers!

Urge Congress to End DC Voucher Program

On Tuesday, June 24, the House Appropriations Committee will mark up the FY2009 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, which could include $18 million for private and religious school vouchers. This bill could contain a continuation of a federally-funded school voucher program even though the program was supposed to end in September 2008.

In 2003, Congress authorized a pilot, private-school voucher program for the District of Columbia. Now, even though the program's five-year pilot period is ending, President Bush has proposed an increase in funding. Next Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee will mark-up the bill that funds the D.C. voucher program. If this Congress does not end this, the only nationally funded voucher program, more may come and your state could be next.

The D.C. public schools are in need of improvement, yet this program does nothing to help public schools provide high-quality education. In fact, congressionally mandated federal evaluations released in both 2007 and 2008 found no significant differences in academic achievement between voucher students and their peers in D.C. public schools. This program does not work and should not be funded by our tax dollars.

Furthermore, these vouchers have been funding religious education. Because sectarian schools integrate religion throughout their curricula, school vouchers allow the state to fund religious teaching as well as secular coursework.

In addition, despite receiving public money, the participating private schools are not subject to all federal civil rights laws, and do not face the same accountability standards that all public schools must face.

Please call the Majority Office of the House Appropriations Committee ASAP to urge the defeat of this misguided program! The number is (202) 225-2771.

If you cannot make a phone call, please e-mail your representative NOW to urge him or her to oppose this program. Your representative can help stop vouchers before they go any further.
Take action right now!


Mary Ellen said...

I have mixed feelings on the voucher program. Obviously, our public schools are deplorable...not all, of course, just the one's in the school districts with a small tax base, in the poor neighborhoods.

My problem is, what has the government done to fix this? Nothing. The NCLB Act was a miserable failure and many of the public schools are getting worse.

My daughter taught for a few years in the city of Chicago. In fact, she taught in an area of Hyde Park that was 90% black, poor, and gang infested. She was one of only 3 white teachers in the school and took a big chance by going there everyday. According to her, the administration did little to help improve the learning in the school. Most of them were given their jobs because of favors of politicians on the School Boards and within the City of Chicago. She eventually quit working and pulled her son out of school when he was in 4th grade so she could home school him, not many parents in that area had the ability to do that.

So, unless they come up with a better way to fix our schools, and fast, vouchers may be the only way. If you have a child who is stuck in one of those school districts, wouldn't you want a way out for him/her?

On the other hand....I don't like seeing our tax money funding private schools. I want our tax money to go to where it belongs, in pubic education. When our public schools are doing their jobs, cancel the voucher system.

Nan said...

What vouchers do most effectively is accelerate the deterioration of public schools. The smart kids with parents who care (the parents who would be the backbone of the PTA and other groups) are pulled out, the kids with fewer resources remain. The private schools that accept vouchers are free to reject applicants (the best ones have waiting lists and a competitive application process) so they're not going to get the underachievers, kids with undiagnosed learning disabilities, or kids with physical handicaps. Those kids will be left behind in the public schools. The end result is the public schools are left with fewer and fewer resources while everyone wrings their hands and bemoans the situation -- as if it's the public schools' fault for failing when they've been deliberately set up to do just that. IIRC,one of the nastier aspects of No Child Left Behind was the punishment clause: failing schools lost funding when they failed, thereby giving them even fewer resources to work with. It's like saying, "oh, you couldn't reach that shelf with a 10-foot stepladder. Well, here, lets take that one away and have you try with this 5-foot one instead."

Mary Ellen said...


The end result is the public schools are left with fewer and fewer resources while everyone wrings their hands and bemoans the situation -- as if it's the public schools' fault for failing when they've been deliberately set up to do just that. IIRC,one of the nastier aspects of No Child Left Behind was the punishment clause: failing schools lost funding when they failed, thereby giving them even fewer resources to work with. It's like saying, "oh, you couldn't reach that shelf with a 10-foot stepladder. Well, here, lets take that one away and have you try with this 5-foot one instead."

I certainly understand your point about this. However, when someone does have a child who is smart and has the potential to do well, they are often held back because the teachers in the public schools don't have the resources to teach them. They are left behind to wait for the others to catch up. Then, in many cases, they fall behind and also develop behavioral problems because they are bored.

This isn't going to be an easy thing to fix. I'm not sure if vouchers are the way to go, but I do know that we can't ignore the bright children either. Everyone deserves a chance at a good education, not just a few.

I've also heard that the federal government wants to crack down on home schooling. So, they can't give us good public schools and those who have the resources to teach their children at home, won't have that opportunity.

No doubt, the system is broken, and I can't tell you what will fix it. But I'm not sure if disavowing the voucher system is the way to go. At least it's something. Along with that voucher system,however, should be some type of federal funding to fix the schools that are failing, instead of closing them down.

I do know that teachers who work in the city of Chicago, especially in the bad areas, are given "combat pay", a better salary to get better teachers. The problem with that is, the teachers who want to help and work in these schools are often discouraged by administrators who want them to teach the same old, failing program. Oh, and my daughter was told not to encourage the kids or give them false hope of a college education. That was the final straw for her. It was another reason why she left the Chicago school district.

Sue J said...

you've also fallen for the other fallacy -- that money buys academic improvement.

This is the argument I hear that just annoys the hell out of me. Probably 99% of the disruptive, behavioral problems you mention could be avoided if schools had money to hire more teachers.

It's a simple matter of teacher:student ratio, beginning in the earliest grades and continuing through middle and high school.

In reality, no_slappz, it's all about the money!

BAC said...

Mary Ellen - I've had a busy couple of days, so could not get back to comment. Nan is absolutely correct in saying that not only do vouchers take financial resources away from "failing" public schools, but they also take away the very important human resource -- which is the parent to is involved with the school and advocating for improvement.

No_slappz isn't welcome here, SueJ, but your response is correct in saying it is all about money. When classrooms have 40 students per teacher, it IS about the money.

The bottom line is that vouchers DON'T WORK. We need to repeal No Child Left Behind, and put in its place a structure that WILL improve public education ... where more than 90% of all children are educated in this country.


Mary Ellen said...

BAC- Hi. I can see both sides to this issue, it really is a mess. What bothers me the most is that when education was on the forefront and No Child Left Behind was implemented, it did more harm than good because Bush wouldn't give the funding necessary, and the idea of using testing to determine if a school is qualified to get the funding was a huge mistake.

Like I mentioned above, unless there is a crackdown on school administrations and school boards who don't do their jobs and treat the kids like cattle that need to be moved from one grade to the next, this won't get fixed.

Teachers deserve better pay and to be treated with respect. I'm not talking about respect from the students, but respect from the administration and parents. Teachers deserve to get back up from their principals when they are struggling with a child who needs discipline and they aren't getting cooperation from the parents.

I also think they need to get rid of that archaic law of taking three months off in the summer. The kids forget half of the stuff they've learned and the first semester of school is being used to review. I'd rather see them take off short periods during the year, like a week per Semester, than three full months.

The Federal government has failed miserably in running the public school system and they need to be held accountable...not the schools, but our government.

I'm not so sure about the voucher system being a failure in all areas. I seem to remember hearing about a State that was showing some success with it. Of course, what you hear on TV or in the news can't always be trusted, too much propaganda.

Like I said, I go back and forth on this.

BAC said...

Mary Ellen - There are a few myths at work here. One being that "all" public schools are failing. That's really not true. The second myth is that vouchers may have worked in some area.

Currently there are only taxpayer funded voucher programs in Milwakee, Cleveland and DC. Florida had a statewide voucher system that was struck down by the FL Supreme Court.

I every instance it has been demonstrated there is NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE between students "voucher" students and their peers in public school.

AND, every time the general public has an opportunity to vote on taxpayer funded school vouchers they have consistently voted them down.

There are problems in our public school system, and in some places significant problems -- but vouchers are not the solution.

I do think much of the current problem is top down. No Child Left Behind is a disaster. And local school boards in far too many communities have been taken over by Religious Right activists, who would like to see public education destroyed -- or at least severely damanged.

I would encourage you to take a look at some of the material on the AU web site. I would also encourage you to Google "David C. Berliner" and see what he has to say.


Sue J said...

BAC, I got "no_slappz'd" over at my blog since you banned him here -- YIKES!

Mary Ellen said...

Thanks for the info, BAC. I realize that not all public schools are failing. In the communities that have money, the tax base is higher and they are able to hire better teachers and have all the tools they need to teach. I live in one of those communities and the high school my kids went to has been visited by Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey more than once. In each instance, we're pointed out as the "haves" and then they show the schools in the city that are the "have nots". Although it points out the problems of public schools that are funded by taxes, it also doesn't address those in the administrations of the City schools who are appointed because they have some sort of political pull and they have no idea how to do their jobs and are not held responsible for their failing schools. It's always the teachers who are punished or fired if their students don't do well, when in fact, it's the administration who refuse to back the teachers regarding discipline and teaching methods. My daughter taught high school in the City of Chicago, and it was a constant battle with the administration. She taught in a school that took the kids who couldn't pass the test to go from 8th grade to high school. They were too young to drop out, by law, so they were put in this "holding station". The idea was to help these kids to pass and move up, but instead, the administration admonished her for telling the kids that they could go to college if they applied themselves. She was told to quit giving them "false hope". The school system and the administration had given up on those kids, and were only babysitting them until they were old enough to drop out of school, where most of them ended up going into gangs.

She also taught in a high school in a rough area of a suburb of Chicago and applied the same message of applying themselves to get to college. In that school, there was support from the administration, and she had heard from some of her class that they DID make it into college. They weren't in the Big Ten, but they made it into community colleges.

This is the problem, there isn't any consistency in the public schools. You can go to one and it's fine because it is run well, and then in the same State, you will find a school that is failing. Of course, it's always the teachers who take the brunt of it. They are the ones who are being threatened to be fired.

Oh..and Sue is right, we need many more teachers. In Chicago area and suburbs...good luck finding a job. They have been laying off teachers for the last 4 or 5 years. In the city of Chicago, about 3 years ago, they had a HUGE teacher layoff. That just exacerbates the problem. Larger classrooms of kids being taught by overworked and underpaid teachers. Not exactly a recipe for success.

But, as a parent, I would grab that voucher if it meant my kid could get out of a failing school. I also think that it will be difficult to see any real success from kids who are sent to private schools on a voucher because it takes a few years for them to acclimate to the new environment and learn better study skills. It's not going to happen over night.

I'd rather see our own public schools totally re-vamped to give the kids a quality education and a better learning environment, but until that happens....something needs to be done.

Anyway, I look up the info you pointed out. I'm always happy to get new info.

BAC said...

SueJ - so sorry.

Mary Ellen - I do understand your point about "if it were my child," and that is a hard argument to get around. The bottom line for me is that we need to pressure policy makers to do a better job of improving public education.

Barry Lynn often says that if a public service, like the fire department, wasn't working efficently and your house caught on fire and burned to the ground would the response be to pass a voucher bill ... so that every household could buy it's own fire extinguisher? No, we would demand that the public service be fixed.


Mary Ellen said...


Barry Lynn often says that if a public service, like the fire department, wasn't working efficiently and your house caught on fire and burned to the ground would the response be to pass a voucher bill ... so that every household could buy it's own fire extinguisher? No, we would demand that the public service be fixed.

I agree with that, we need to fix the system. But like I said, if it was your child being hurt by the broken system, would you be willing to allow him to stay in and lose the chance of a good education until the job was done? These kids grow up so fast, all that wasted time, waiting...what is a parent to do, who can't afford to pay tuition at a private school?

It's a mess, I agree, and I see both sides of the arguments presented. I guess I'm looking at this like a mother, but also seeing the side of an activist.

I guess what most of this boils down to is leadership at the top, and our Congress doesn't seem to "get it".


As usual, you show your ignorance of what I wrote.You really need to stop assuming or reading between the lines of what I say.

As for your daughter. As you said, she quit due to a combination of management corruption and student behavior.

No, my daughter quit because she had to take her child out of the broken school system when he went into 4th grade. She was living in Hyde Park because her husband was going to Medical School at the University of Chicago. Although my grandson wasn't in the worst school, it wasn't adequate for him and my daughter found herself having to teach him at home because they weren't teaching him in the classroom. She would have continued teaching in the school she was at, she was a great teacher and highly respected by her peers and the students. The administration would not have fired her, but they were no help when it came to backup with discipline.

Meanwhile, I have my doubts about the administrators telling your daughter to stop giving "false hope" to minority kids.

I don't care what you believe, I know the truth. You are being naive if you think all black administrators in schools that are mostly black, actually give a shit about the kids in that school. It's not that way in all schools, but it's true in many. They care about one thing, their paychecks. It's the same in many white schools, too. Bad administrators come in all colors.

As for your claims about firing teachers, well, I doubt you can support that claim. Only teachers in their first couple of years on the job face firing. Then they become tenured and enjoy lifetime job security -- unless they do something outrageous. But being a bad teacher is not sufficient reason to fire a teacher.

Again, you show your ignorance. I well aware of the tenure system. Many schools will let teachers go right before tenure so they don't have to pay a higher pay scale. They will then hire teachers that are just starting out to fill their jobs. This happens very often in the big city schools. They don't need a reason to lay off teachers.

Meanwhile, you claim that administrations do not back teachers. In fact, administrations are usuall PROHIBITED by LAW from applying common-sense solutions to student problems. However, I can tell you that administrations often have back-door methods for protecting teachers -- in some circumstances.

More bullshit. Show me the law that says an administrator is not allowed to back up their teachers.

Principals can drive a teacher out of a school, but that teacher merely moves to another school in the system. Or perhaps goes to another system.

Just like any other job, you can't switch from school to school and expect to be hired again. Just like any other job, if it looks like you can't get along with your boss, you won't be hired. I can say for a fact, that teaching jobs are difficult to get in Chicago and many of the suburbs. Our own school district, which is quite wealthy, had to let a lot of teachers go about three years ago.

Ok...that's the last response you'll get from me, no_slappz. I'm not going to get sucked further into one of your arguments.