Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

School of Choice: But I have a voucher..

There is more than one voucher in the political world.  Yes, there is the voucher idea for Medicare, but there is another.  That's the school voucher system, sometimes called the school of choice movement.  The idea is that the tax money that goes to a school for funding would be attached to the child, so that whatever school the child goes to, the money goes to that school.  This is different than open enrollment.  In open enrollment, a student may go to any public school as long as that school has space for the students in their district.  For now, I want you to understand that school choice is different.

The idea, as presented by proponents, sounds good.  Every student would be given a voucher which they would present to the school they attend. The tax money for that student would go to that school.  A poor student could go then to a private school and get out of that failing school in their poor neighborhood.  The average spending which was according to the Census Bureau $10,500 nationally in 2009 in public schools.  The actual cost is anywhere from $6,400 in Utah to $18,100 in New York.  So a student could go to any public or private school and take that money.  Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

There all kinds of "average costs" for private schools, but perhaps the best was a study done at the same time as the 2009 figures from Census.  The author of this study looked a Private Schools vs Public Schools in Boston.  The final is that an average of the best fifty-seven private schools was a cost of $22,377 dollars with many exceeding will over $30,000.  The average spent for Boston Public Schools, $12,966. Both figures are based on day only for comparison.  Any cost of boarding is removed.  On education nation during an interview with Mitt Romney, it was pointed out that the private school he attended in Michigan, Cranbrook Academy, now costs over $35,000 per student per year.  He advocated that poor parents could use "pots of money," Title I, to go to better privatized charter schools.  The average Title I fund is about $3,000 while the the local private schools cost over $7,000.  Does anyone see a problem with this?

What proponents of the School Choice movement fail is to explain how the poor will make up the difference.  They also make the assumption that all private schools and privatized charter schools are better than public. National studies would differ on that point. Nevertheless, private schools still must be paid.  While the voucher may tip the scales for upper middle income and maybe a few middle income families to allow their children to go private, for the most part it will not let the vast majority of students to change schools.  In other words the tax payer will be footing a discount for those who can already afford private schools.

What is more, is they are private schools.  They may be religious based which would seem to violate the separation of church and state according to the courts.  This also means they don't have to take students they don't want.  They don't have to provide services for special needs.  They don't have to have a due process to expel a student.  They don't have to prove their school is successful.  They don't have to take state mandated tests.  They don't have to meet standards requirements.  AND if the student is expelled or drops out, they don't have to give the money back.

A short while back, the conservative school board in Douglas County adopted a school of choice policy.  It was political and controversial. It also went against at least two previous state-wide referendums that had been defeated which means a small group was now using its power to thwart the will of the majority. It was also halted by the courts. The judge wrote in his sixty-seven page ruling, that "The prospect of having millions of dollars of public school funding diverted to private schools, many of which are religious and lie outside of the Douglas County School District, creates a sufficient basis to establish standing for taxpayers seeking to ensure lawful spending of these funds." 

Hundreds of students who had enrolled in private schools had to scramble to find alternatives.  One can only guess at the cost to an already budget strapped district for the court battle to support the board.  They had already distributed about $300, 000 dollars which they would probably not get back.  The original pilot would have given each student $4,575 for private school.  

Having a voucher and a road to a "better" education are two very different things.