Vouchers: All choices are not equal
I support school choice, but wasn’t sure where I stood on school vouchers until I did some research for my Public Policy class. I found that vouchers are merely a band-aid trying to fix much larger issues in education.
On April 9, Governor McDonnell signed into law a tax credit program that will enable individuals and corporations to make donations to non-profit scholarship programs and in return, receive a sizable tax credit. The claim is that these scholarships will be targeted at low-income families and students with disabilities, but with the stipulation that low-income include families at 300% of the poverty line, it actually begins to include the middle class. This first step toward school choice in Virginia shows one of the perils - that it will often help those who really don’t need it, while leaving behind those who desperately need the help.
The state of Ohio has had a voucher program in place for several years. The guidelines for the program pretty clearly target giving aid to those who need it most. Vouchers are only available for students attending public schools that are failing and first priority is given to those applicants at the federal poverty level. Every year the program has grown and every year, there has always been enough leftover vouchers for students whose parents could actually afford private school tuition. The students who are left behind in the failing schools are often the ones who need help the most, but their parents are too busy (working multiple jobs and/or not able to provide transportation), too poor (not able to supplement scholarship monies to match tuition) or too disinterested (not engaged in their child’s learning enough to seek out other options) to actually take advantage of the private school option through vouchers.
Another problem with vouchers is that private schools can reject applicants where public schools cannot. Increasingly public schools have been dealing with this lack of choice through enacting zero tolerance policies for discipline issues. This recipe for disaster has led to a school-to-prison pipeline that is disproportionately affecting minorities and students with special needs at failing schools. The other choice that is often not given to parents is to enroll their child at an out of district public school. Kelley Williams-Bolar of Ohio learned this lesson the hard way as she was convicted of a felony for using her father’s address to claim residency status so her children could attend a higher-performing suburban school.
Advocates for vouchers point to “free choice” as their main rationale. However, the reality is that this choice is not free. Not all families can take advantage of the choice and the choice costs struggling public schools valuable resources. I do agree with advocates that forcing parents to have their children attend “understaffed and under-maintained facilities in which educators are under-qualified and student achievement suffers” (NOW, 2004) is a problem, but a voucher system is not the solution.
Abramson, L. (2011). School voucher debate heats back up. All Things Considered: NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org.
Boyd, H. (2006). The school voucher debate. Retrieved from http://www.education.com.
Huffington Post (2011). Kelley Williams-Bolar, Ohio mother, convicted of felony for lying to get kids into better school. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com.
Lieszkovszky, I. (2011). Voucher program expands in Ohio. State Impact: NPR. Retrieved from http://stateimpact.npr.org.
NOW (2004). School voucher debate. PBS. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org.
Prante, G. (2007). What is 300 percent of the poverty levee? Tax Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.taxfoundation.org.
Sluss, M. (2012). Va. senate OKs tax credit for private scholarships. The Roanoke Times. http://hamptonroads.com.