Date: February 9, 2017
Topic: Tuition Vouchers
As Betsy DeVos takes office as the new Secretary of Education, charter schools and tuition vouchers have been the focus of many discussions regarding education policy. However, little has been said about how vouchers affect public schools. To further understand the policy limitations on public education finance, I began researching how charter schools affect financial plans for public schools. While I have not concluded whether or not vouchers are beneficial to education in general, I have come to believe that they do weaken public schools.
With 90% of American students in public schools, policies should devote the majority of their resources to strengthening public schools. However, this does not seem to be the case, given that in Milwaukee (a city that is the focus of many charter school studies) 45% local taxes meant for education go to charter schools. On the surface, these statistics startled me. By the numbers alone, it is clear that education finance policies in Milwaukee are neglecting public school students, who make up the vast majority of students. As I continued my research, the disparities in funding for charter and public schools continued to unsettle me.
Focusing on just the immediate implications of vouchers alone, I began to realize that pro-voucher and school choice policies are increasing uphill battles for students with disabilities and economic disadvantages. Most state and local policies regarding tuition vouchers are worded to suggest that they promote school choice for all students. However, with half of the vouchers in cities such as Cleveland being given to families who already have students in private or charter schools, it is clear that a strong portion of vouchers help families who are already fortunate enough to afford a school of their choice. Additionally, if a voucher does not cover the full tuition, then economically disadvantaged families are often still unable to utilize vouchers to pay for charter or private school tuition. In my opinion, these policies only serve to increase the socioeconomic achievement gaps. If legislators promote school choice as a means to allow every family to choose what school is best for their child, then they are failing. Currently, school choice is a means for affluent families to take their taxes out of public schools, in effect hurting the rest of the community.
Furthermore, the current policies in place do not allow charter schools to discriminate against students with disabilities. However, there are no statues in place to prevent charter schools from discouraging and neglecting students with disabilities. From my research, I learned that schools not receiving federal funding are not required to uphold federal anti-discriminatory laws such as The Americans with Disabilities Act and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Without these policies in place, students with disabilities enrolled in charter and private schools are not guaranteed the necessary educational services. I believe that this serves to take parents’ freedom to choose their child’s school away, given that only public schools can guarantee an individual education plan for their child. However, students with disabilities are further hurt by the prominent use of tuition vouchers, even if they are enrolled in public schools. Cleveland’s Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid uses state funds to ensure that schools have the resources to effectively meet the needs of students with disabilities. As vouchers direct public school funding to charter schools, a significant portion of funding for the Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid is cut. While legislators may not have intentions of negatively impacting educational services for students with disabilities, I believe that this is a clear result of school choice policies. While tuition vouchers may empower some families to choose the best fit school for their children, vouchers also take these choices away from families with children who have disabilities. This leaves these families in public schools that are increasingly losing funds. The implications of pro-voucher policies illustrate to me a disregard for students with disabilities, which I believe is an injustice and failure of state governments.
While I am still continuing my research regarding public school finance, tuition vouchers, and current legislative efforts to improve public schools, my research at this moment heavily suggests that vouchers are doing more harm than good. As they avoid educating students with disabilities and economic disadvantages, vouchers are creating public schools without significant funding. With insufficient local financing, I believe that public schools in competition with voucher-supported charter schools now have a need for more state funding to ensure a quality education for all students.
Egan, Marcus. “Tuition Vouchers Are Not a Good Alternative to Current Public Education.”
Education, edited by David Haugen and Susan Musser, Greenhaven Press, 2009.
Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, Accessed 10 Feb. 2017. Originally published in Keeping Public Education Public: Why Vouchers Are a Bad Idea, National School Boards Association, 2003.