Why school voucher system should be rejected

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The first step to destroy public education in Roane County and Tennessee took place in the meeting of the House Committee on Education on Aug. 20.

The committeevoted for the bill to put the creation of a voucher system on the floor of the house for a vote.  

What you don’t know is who is behind this national movement to voucherize public schools. In 2002, the far-right Michigan billionaire Dick DeVos stood in front of a crowd at the conservative Heritage Foundation’s annual meeting and proposed a strategy for pushing school vouchers around the country.

“We need to target our ability at the state level to deliver rewards and consequences to legislators on school choice issues,” he said, noting that vouchers should “not be viewed as only a conservative idea.”

“Public school is such a misnomer today that I hate to use it,” he added. “I’ve begun using the word ‘government school’ or ‘government-run school.’”

“This has got to be the battle,” he concluded.  “It will not be as visible.”
According to an article in Forbes the top 2 percent of our country, aka the elite rich, in a meeting in 2001 figured out the next best way to have another slice of public monies is to push the voucher school system idea and then build “voucher schools.”

DeVos’ wife, Betsy, chairs the powerful “school choice” foundation American Federation for Children as well as the Alliance for School Choice.

Both organizations dole out millions in campaign contributions to legislators who push the voucher agenda through PACs like the The American Federation for Children and other nonprofits. DeVos’ money, alongside that of other proponents like the Walton Family Foundation, propel the national “school choice movement” forward, state by state.

The American Federation for Children funneled $900,000 into lobbying for “school choice” in North Carolina — a fraction of the $2.392 million they spent in Wisconsin, thanks to big money campaign donations politicians all over the country are intent on slowly doing away with our public education system in favor of privatized education that is paid for with taxpayers’ money.

Funding private schools through vouchers is an end-run around our constitutionally created public education system.

Our state Constitution requires the Legislature to “provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge.”

This school voucher system proposal will chip away at public education and in the end will expand vouchers by increasing the geographic area, participant income limits and funding levels of voucher programs  which is contrary to our long-valued public education system.

Private schools are not accountable to taxpayers and don’t provide the same kind of testing or accountability as exists in public schools.

Voucher education is the equivalent of trying to get healthy by no longer taking your heart rate.

While parents pick the school of their choice in using vouchers, taxpayers pay the bills and they have no means of holding voucher schools accountable.

Low-performing voucher schools, which have little state oversight, can do as they please.

Voucher schools are not governed by publicly elected school boards that have to answer to constituents.

With the cost of top-notch private schools tuition can cost $10,000 per year, the voucher amount presented in this bill will only cover half the cost of tuition, which is insufficient to pay a student’s way at a top-flight private school.

Voucher schools will create a situation where unqualified, uncertified profit-centered individuals will be held responsible for the education of our children.

With voucher schools, Tennessee will most certainly end up with a less-educated work force.

Look at what is going on in Florida.

Their  voucher system created fly-by-night private schools opening up, trying to benefit from the tax dollars being available to private businesses.

One had convicted felons teaching class; another offered a business finance class that had student on the street shaking donation cans. A third had students filling out workbooks in the morning and watching TV in the gym in the afternoon.

Milwaukee also has a voucher system.

Overall, Milwaukee choice schools are not holding up their duty to provide a comprehensive education.

Take, for instance, the Clara Mohammed School. According to its filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the school’s purpose is to engage in a guided journey toward active global citizenship.

It is funded almost exclusively through vouchers. In 2011, only less than 1 percent of its students (one out of 123) tested proficient in math, and less than 6 percent tested proficient in reading on state exams.

Other Milwaukee choice schools are using unscientific and outdated curriculum from textbook publishers such Beka Books. Of the 69 Carter’s students tested in 2011, none tested proficient in reading by state standards and only three tested proficient in math.

All three of these low-performing voucher schools have increased enrollment this year.

These schools are a symptom of a larger problem. The schools can take public money and teach what they want.

Parents will continue to send their students to these schools because they mistakenly believe school leaders are up to the task of providing a sound education.

Yet in both states the heads of low-performing voucher schools remain well-compensated.

IRS records show that Carter Academy principal Andre Carter received compensation of $109,000 in 2011.

Dorothy Travis-Moore of the Travis Academy receives $150,000 annually.

In 2011, roughly 2 percent of the voucher students at the Travis Academy tested proficient on state exams.

Again, public schools are held to an academic accountability system, while private schools are not.

Schools serve to educate the next generation to create an educated citizenry and to ensure the vitality of the state.

This is a public good that is supported by all, including those who do not have school-aged children. This social value is recognized by our constitutionally created public school system and our compulsory education laws.

Parents who support vouchers make the assumption that private and religious schools do a better job of educating kids.

This is a false assumption.

There is no data that shows kids do better at a private or religious school. The difference is that public schools must educate everyone, regardless of educational ability, financial background, discipline, handicaps, etc.

Private and religious can pick and choose. They can choose who they educate.

Even with vouchers in place, they can still deny the students that proponents say vouchers will help.

Vouchers will not fix public education; privatization of public school operations with a purpose of profit and/or budgetary reduction, will fundamentally and negatively affect education of the children of our state.

Joe Kneiser
State representative candidate