Voucher bill in the driver’s seat

Who would vouchers harm in this picture? All of them.

Who would vouchers harm in this picture? All of them.

The state legislature has been in session for over a week, and as anyone who’s been following state politics for a while knows…that means its time for another discussion about what advocates like to misleadingly call “school choice” and what the rest of us call “vouchers”.

Once again, ready to lead the charge is Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) (who I am already tired of talking about), joined by Delores Gresham (R-Somerville) and John DeBerry (D-Memphis).

DeBerry’s sponsorship makes this a “bi-partisan” effort…though DeBerry has been voting with Republicans a lot more than he has been with Democrats in recent years. I guess his values “go with the flow”, so to speak.

I say its misleading to call the current bill a “school Choice” bill for two reasons:

1. It is limited in nature. According to the Commercial Appeal, the vouchers would not be available to everyone. Just students in “failing schools”…unless enough of them don’t take advantage.

2. The bill assumes that the parents would be able to cover the difference in the cost of a private school education…and since most of the students in failing schools are also dirt poor, the reality is…that won’t happen…which takes us back to #1, and the chance that this could be nothing more than a free for all for the folks who are already paying for private schools…which is what this really seems to be all about.

The truth is, school vouchers only sap public money away from public schools to the benefit of private schools. That’s it. So if you’re one of those that thinks public education is an entitlement program, you’re probably really for vouchers…like the group that staged this event last year.

There are plenty of other concerns as well.

But perhaps my favorite critical critique comes from the blog Bluff City Education in this post.

Here’s a snippet:

…To date we’ve seen little to no positive demonstrated impact on student achievement from these programs. In 2010, the Center on Education Policy reviewed 10 years of voucher research and action and found that vouchers had no strong effect on student achievement. The most positive results come from Milwaukee County’s voucher program, but the effects were small and limited to only a few grades.

Voucher programs also struggle to achieve their mission of providing low-income students with a way out of failing schools. For example a critical study of the Milwaukee program found that it overwhelmingly helped those already receiving education through private means. Two thirds of Milwaukee students using the voucher program in the city already attended private schools. Instead of increasing mobility for low-income students, the program primarily served to perpetuate status quo.

Ahh, so this really is about helping private schools and the students that already attend them. Good to know.

Unfortunately, the fate of this bill isn’t set in terms of whether or not it helps students or furthers the aim of educating the children…its wrapped up in the size.

Last year the Governor’s bill died, and the alternative…sponsored by Kelsey, also failed to make it through both houses.

Will this year be different? Who the heck knows? But its something to watch.




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