I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Vouchers Won't "Save" Anyone

Former New Jersey Governor Jim Florio has been making the rounds, speaking out against school vouchers... sorry, "taxpayer funded private school scholarships." More commonly known as... vouchers!
The financing of vouchers under pending proposals would authorize businesses to write off their state taxes, dollar for dollar, tax credits to pay for such vouchers. They would be creatively labeled “scholarships.” At a time of record deficits, each tax dollar lost to the state would make a very bad situation worse. You don’t have to be an economist to understand that tax credits are tax expenditures and, thus, revenues lost to be made up by someone else.
We should all be intellectually honest enough to label a business tax break as such and not call it an educational funding mechanism — especially when it undermines our, historically, successful universal system of public education. Fiscal irresponsibility and educational deprivation — perfect together? [emphasis mine]
The voucher cheerleaders have tried so hard to lose the word "voucher" because it doesn't poll well. The only problem is that these are vouchers, no matter how the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA) legislation tries to get around it.

So kudos to Florio for calling them out. But I am worried that this will be misinterpreted:
Voucher proponents, who are willing to jettison this uniquely American institution, justify their position on the basis of some failing schools in urban and remote rural areas.
They would segregate our most motivated students in such schools and transfer them to private and parochial schools. The vast majority of remaining students, 85 to 90 percent, would be intellectual residue.
Voucher supporters, rather than committing to improve educational opportunity for all, run up a white flag of surrender on the hallowed American tradition of universal education — opting instead for a European-style bifurcated system of quality education to some and a lesser system for the rest. Equality for all is apparently too much of an effort. [emphasis  mine]
Florio is correct that we are talking bout a form of segregation here - but not just segregation by "motivation." Bruce Baker shows that OSA overwhelmingly favors private Yeshiva schools in Lakewood; as much as $76 million could flow to them, far outstripping any funds going to students in other cities.

But that aside: I'm concerned Florio's construction here implies that the kids who move to private schools will receive a "quality" education; certainly, better than what they would get in their current, "failing" schools. Because we know that's not true.

We know that private school spending and quality varies greatly; it's a myth that every private school is a Lawrenceville or Pingry. We know that private schools do no better than publics - and often worse - when accounting for student characteristics. We know large-scale studies of voucher programs - like the one in Milwaukee - find they do not improve student achievement.

So there's no reason to believe any student will be "saved" by a voucher program, because there's no reason to believe they will attend a better school. And, once they're enrolled, there's no way to stop them from being exposed to nonsense like this:

We’ve written before on this blog about Louisiana’s new voucher program that will direct taxpayer funds to private religious schools of dubious worth, including one school that uses DVDs to educate children and has great plans to expand “on faith.”

Now comes word that another school taking part in the program, Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, uses a “science” book that contains some unusual ideas – one of them the assertion that dinosaurs might still be roaming our planet.
Why would a fundamentalist school want kids to think dinosaurs might still be alive? They apparently believe this would somehow cast doubt on evolution, a well-established principle that fundamentalists have been at war with since at least 1925.
The book in question, Biology 1099 published by Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) in Madison, Tenn., contains the following passage: “Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”
Does anyone want to make the case that our public taxpayer dollars should be used to teach children that Nessie's existence has been confirmed by submarine? Let's be clear: any school that teaches such nonsense is NOT providing a "quality education."

Nessie says: "It's nae a voucher! 'Tis a scholarship program!"

ADDING: More bizarre private school "science."

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