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Scott Sargrad: Invest in Public Schools, Not Vouchers

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Scott Sargrad is in charge of K-12 education policy at the Center for American Policy. CAP has been one of the leading advocates for privately managed charters. This article explains in lucid prose why vouchers are a terrible strategy and how they actually harm most children who use them. He could have written the same article about charters, which suck money and top students away from public schools and weaken the very schools we should be helping.

He writes that no matter how many anecdotes you hear about vouchers, the bottom line is they they are a bad bet:

“But if our goal as a country is to provide an excellent education for every child, private school voucher schemes that send taxpayer dollars away from public schools and into private schools are too risky a gamble…

“It’s worth pausing for a moment to examine just how stunning the results of these studies are. In Indiana and the District of Columbia, students receiving vouchers actually moved backward in math, and made no progress in reading. In both Ohio and Louisiana, the students did significantly worse in both reading and math compared to their peers who remained in public schools – with students in Louisiana moving from the 50th percentile to the 34th percentile in math after just one year.

“And despite frequent claims that parents are happier after using a voucher, the evaluation of the District of Columbia program found no impact on parent or student satisfaction or parent involvement. (To be fair, the study found that parents perceived their private schools as safer – although the students did not.)

“It might be tempting to consider allowing for small, limited voucher programs that are carefully targeted to the neediest students and include important civil rights, antidiscrimination and transparency protections. Unfortunately, history shows clearly that this is never the case. Some of the biggest supporters of vouchers – including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos – are explicitly against these kinds of protections, casting them as over-regulation that limits choice.

“In fact, voucher programs often start small – such as targeting students with disabilities or families with lower incomes. Then proponents slowly but surely expand eligibility to all students and raise or eliminate income caps. Eventually, students using vouchers are those who have never enrolled in a public school, and increased spending on voucher programs leads to budget crunches that could harm public schools.

“Of course, public schools are not perfect – not even close. That’s why instead of directing taxpayer dollars to private school voucher schemes, states and the federal government should be investing public money in improving public schools.”

He goes on to encourage choice within public schools, including charters, but surely he knows that charters are as discriminatory as voucher schools and just as likely to be corrupt because of the typical absence of oversight or accountability. The “effective” charters are those that cherrypick their students, avoid those with disabilities, and push out students who can’t get high scores.

Charter Schools, by definition, are privately managed. They are not public schools. No matter what their allies call them, no matter what they call themselves, they are private schools that are bankrolled by public money.

Sorry, CAP, you can’t reject half of the Betsy DeVos agenda and embrace the other half.

The charter industry does not collaborate with public schools. It seeks to weaken them, not help them.

CAP, either support public schools or school choice. There is no middle ground. One is public, the other is not. Which side are you on?

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