By Steven Waddy, Legislative Assistant, ACLU
Last week, there was a lot of emphasis on income inequality, social mobility, and class concerns, but not all of the attention came from President Obama and his State of the Union message. It was also “School Choice Week,” and proponents of taxpayer-funded vouchers for students to pay for private and religious schools seized the opportunity to claim that vouchers will solve these challenging societal issues. However, when “school choice” means vouchers, what it really offers is discrimination and unaccountability.
Recent polling by Phi Delta Kappa and the Gallup Organization found that 70% of the public, the highest number in the 20 year history of the poll, oppose private school vouchers. The reasons why are clear when parents and taxpayers look at the reality behind the veil of good intentions. To understand the perils of public funds going to private schools, we can simply look to the fact that these private schools take taxpayer dollars and then can decide to exclude students based on sex, religion, academic achievement, sexual orientation, and even economic status. Not only that, but voucher programs also discriminate against students with disabilities and are mismanaged.
And what about academics? Voucher schools are often low-performing. Voucher programs don’t improve reading and math achievement, and students interested in careers in the STEM fields could be at a significant disadvantage as many voucher schools reject evolution and teach creationism.
Yet, those who want vouchers continue to promote these misguided policies. Last week, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) introduced the CHOICE Act, a bill that would authorize a range of bad ideas, including creating new federally funded vouchers for students with disabilities (even though students with disabilities often reject or drop out of voucher programs) and expanding the deeply troubled Washington, D.C., voucher program. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), introduced the Scholarship for Kids Act, which could potentially deprive $24 billion from public schools and put it into the hands of private and religious schools.
How do discrimination and miseducation address income inequality? They don’t. Legislators should be ending voucher programs, not expanding them.