JILLIAN KOVLER—Every day, we wake up to news stories about controversial cabinet appointments and highly contested subjects being debated in Congress. But House Bill 610 is especially worrisome for parents and public school advocates alike. This bill establishes an educational voucher program in which the states distribute funds to local educational agencies (LEAs). These LEAs in turn distribute portions of those funds to parents who can choose to either home-school or enroll their children in a private or charter school. The bill states that this program will “ensure that such payments will be used for appropriate educational expenses.” Advocates of this program seek to move money away from what President Trump calls “failing government schools” and what Secretary DeVos has labelled a “dead end” public education system.
Currently, there are seventeen states with similar voucher programs, or scholarship tax credits (including Florida), that President Trump and Secretary DeVos have cited to as models for the type of educational program our new administration seeks to implement. The reality is that vouchers and tax credit programs use public money to let children attend private, often religious, schools. This program will also funnel money into many charter schools, which are publicly-funded and independently-run schools that often do not have to follow school district rules, even while receiving public funds. Critics say the real problem is that charter schools operate without oversight and accountability.
Secretary Devos has championed for charter schools in her home state of Michigan, where studies have shown that charter school students actually scored lower on academic achievement tests than students at more traditional schools. The Detroit Free Press Investigation found that although Michigan taxpayers spent nearly $1 billion on charter schools, 38% of the charter schools that received state academic rankings during the 2012-2013 school year fell below the 25th percentile. This means that 75% of all schools in the state performed better than the charter schools. To make matters worse, Michigan law is lenient with regard to charter school performance. There are often no consequences for poor academics at these charter schools, no set qualifications for charter school applicants (anyone can open a charter school), no guidelines for when a charter should be revoked, and no disclosure laws so that taxpayer money can be hidden from the public’s view.
House Bill 610, school vouchers, or tax credits would simply not work in the majority of school districts across the country. Most rural and suburban areas around the country are lightly populated in comparison to urban areas and there are simply not enough schools around for vouchers or tax credits to be an effective solution to what has been referred to as the “dead end” public education system. Voucher or tax credit programs would not only be ineffective in many school districts, but would dramatically decimate the public school system that so many Americans have successfully relied on in the past by redirecting and reprioritizing $20 billion from existing federal education programs to a school choice program that favors religious schools, private schools, and charter schools.