School Vouchers: Imminent Threat to Equitable School Funding

 

                It was telling that Unpresident Trump and Secretary (are you serious?) of Education DeVos made their first joint school visit to a private religious school in Florida. Both of them have negligible experience with public schools and it is clear that their lack of interest in improving public education is neither knowledge based nor rooted in a respect for the common good. Vouchers are based on a move to privatization and profit and when those factors enter the equation for school funding, we, as a society, are tacitly using students as pawns and allowing corporations to make money on the backs of children.

                It may be informative to provide a few numbers here regarding school funding:

1.       The Philadelphia school district’s current budget of $2.8 billion includes $875 million for charters. That is a staggering amount that must be paid to charters, by state law, before the district pays for anything in the education of their students. That amount paid to charters is growing every year, and currently the Pa. legislature is trying to pass a bill that mandates that Philadelphia MUST add 3,000 students to the charter rolls every year, thereby decreasing the money that the district will have to educate public school students.

2.       In Philadelphia the formula, part of state law, shows that the district is paying charters $8,487 per student in regular education and $25,624 per student in special education. Yes, that is amount is tripled for special education! There have been multiple effects of that law. If you are a parent of a student that has been diagnosed as intellectually disabled, physically disabled, emotionally disabled, or a student classified as an English language learner chances are that you will be discouraged from enrolling your child in a charter school. It will be implied that the public schools are ‘better equipped’ to educate your child. Of course this conveniently neglects the fact that charter funding drains the public school budget, but let’s not permit reality to intrude too much on this matter. If your child is diagnosed as learning disabled, you are in luck! Charters are more than happy to enroll these students (remember they get triple the amount for such students), and charters will even be willing to test your child to see if he/she qualifies as learning disabled – remember if he/she does get that label, the school will triple the amount they collect from the local school district. This shell game will be further played when your child is kept (for the most part) in ‘mainstream’ classes and will see a special education teacher for ‘support’. Charters will rake in the money and spend it any way they choose as long as certain minimum demands are met, and charters have become very adept at meeting minimum demands. I can add, from personal experience, that when the money is spent on hiring teachers, the charters will look to hire cheaply (inexperienced teachers) and not look for senior teachers who have years of teacher knowledge and experienced classroom practice.

3.       Regarding the voucher idea – the tuition at an un-named Quaker school in the Philadelphia area is $23,000 for Kindergarten, ranging to $35,000 for high school. I am not making those numbers up! If you, as a parent, receive a voucher for $2,000 (the value is not set yet, but this is just for ‘just saying’ purposes), you will have enough to pay less than 10% of the cost for an entire year. Clearly, most working and lower middle class people will not have the financial resources to pay the remainder of the cost. So who benefits from voucher programs? Can you say ‘the wealthy’, boys and girls?

The tuition at a Catholic high school in Philadelphia is between $8,000 – $9,000 per year. It is less than that for elementary school. Again, even at this lower cost, it is still difficult for working and lower middle class families to pay the remainder of the full tuition bill.

 

Where does the money for vouchers come from? Unpresident Trump would probably have to pull the money out of Title I funds – which are now used for lower income students and can provide such things as teachers, teacher aides, smaller classes, training for teachers, classroom texts, and other things of that nature in the areas of reading and math. Therefore, Trump’s plan would be taking away from the very students it purports to help. Even Title I funds would not cover the cost of his voucher ideas, so he has suggested that states would pay for the rest. Where will states get the money? In Pennsylvania, where our Republican legislature does not presently fund public schools in an equitable manner, those funds would probably come from the present funding for public education.

                Think of public education funding as a finite amount of money. Then imagine vouchers and increased charter school enrollment draining away more dollars every year. That will leave less and less of that finite amount of money for public education from the state of Pennsylvania for ALL school districts across the state. Even if you live in an area of the state that does not have private or charter schools, your school district will eventually feel the severe pinch of limited resources. If a voucher program were to be instituted in Pennsylvania, it would not be long before the vultures of private and charter schools would look to expand into your area – particularly if the vultures were of the ‘for profit’ variety of private and charter school owners.

                It is time to stand up and be active – to support fair and equitable funding for public education across the Commonwealth, to vote for legislators that support this effort, and to join your voices and your efforts with those that are already standing in opposition to vouchers and the privatization of public education.

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