AASA urges its members and supporters to participate in our social media campaign this week to fight the school choice and voucher rhetoric during National School Choice Week, Jan. 25-31. In unity with and as co-chair of the National Coalition for Public Education, a coalition of over 50 national education, civil rights, religious and secular organizations, AASA joins with these groups to oppose and inform the public of the real focus of this event--the push for private school vouchers. While the word “school choice” implies options for parents, it is actually a scheme to get the public to buy into the use of public funds for private schools:

Private school vouchers do not provide students and parents with real and meaningful choice. Under private school voucher schemes, the ultimate choice rests with the school, not with the students and their families. Voucher programs usually allow participating private schools to reject students based on numerous factors, including economic status, gender, religion, academic achievement, sexual orientation, and even disability. Public schools, on the other hand, are required to accept all students.

• Voucher schools don’t solve social inequality. They contribute to it: http://bit.ly/1er5YPU

• #Schoolchoice doesn’t give choice to parents, but instead gives private voucher schools choice of students they want to accept or reject.

• What do taxpayer funded school voucher schools teach? Often it’s LGBT bigotry. http://bit.ly/1j007Ys

• #Voucherfail Wisconsin voucher schools fail to provide equal access for students with disabilities: http://bit.ly/1yooEer

Students with Disabilities
Some students have even less choice than others. Students with disabilities often aren’t guaranteed the same services in the voucher school that they would ordinarily receive in a public school and can find few voucher schools that offer them the services they need. Here is an example: Students with disabilities comprise almost 20% of the Milwaukee public school population, but they number only 1.6% of the city’s voucher school students. And, students who want to attend a secular school are also left with few options, as the vast majority of schools that accept vouchers are religious schools.

• #voucherfail: private voucher schools don’t grant students with disabilities the same protections guaranteed under IDEA.

• #voucherfail: voucher programs systematically exclude students with disabilities from participation. http://bit.ly/1DEjteX

• #voucherfail Many families who get vouchers reject them b/c they do not meet needs of students with disabilities http://1.usa.gov/1AXSav1

Academic Performance
Voucher programs also don’t provide students and families with quality options. Studies consistently show that private school vouchers don’t improve reading and math achievement. For example, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – the country’s oldest voucher program – a recent study shows that the students in the voucher program do no better in reading or math than their peers in public schools. Similarly in Louisiana, 67% of public school students pass their standardized tests, whereas only 44% of voucher students do.

The lack of quality control is even seen in the school buildings themselves. A closer look into the schools that serve Milwaukee’s voucher students found these schools to be lacking in appropriate amenities; many of them were operating out of old storefronts, gas stations, and other run-down facilities. The DC voucher program has a similar problem: students in a school accepting vouchers in DC had to go to the day care center downstairs because the school’s only bathroom wasn’t usable.
Unfortunately, parents often don’t know and can’t discover these problems in voucher schools. With no oversight, access to records and test scores, or public meetings, parents are often denied the pertinent information required to make a good choice.

• Vouchers don’t work: Test scores show students in Milwaukee public schools outperform students in voucher schools http://bit.ly/1ghHKJt

• #VoucherFactCheck: Voucher programs strip protections for students who are English language learners. http://bit.ly/1wV4B4A

• #Voucherfail: 67% of La. public school students pass their LEAP and iLEAP tests; only 44% of voucher students do. http://bit.ly/1suSkHu

Say No to Private School Voucher Programs
Nonetheless, states continue to create and expand voucher programs. There are currently private school voucher and tuition tax credit (backdoor voucher) programs in 23 states. And as states begin their 2015 legislative sessions, we are already seeing the introduction of numerous voucher bills.

Congress will likely debate private school vouchers too, as it attempts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In fact, the Senate bill already includes a scheme called Title I “portability.” Title I funding was designed to support schools with high concentrations of poverty, allowing schools to pool funds to help students most in need. Title I portability would dismantle the program, allowing funds to “follow the child” to another school. The current proposal limits the funds to public schools. It is clear, however, that supporters of portability want the funds to eventually flow to private schools too—creating a national private school voucher plan.

Talk to Your Legislators
During this National School Choice Week, it is important to remember that private school vouchers are not true school choice, and they do not offer any real benefit to the children most in need of better educational opportunities. That’s why voters in several states have voted down vouchers at the ballot box. Take the time to let your legislators know that you don’t support private school vouchers and that they should oppose any attempt to create or expand private school voucher programs, including Title I portability.

--AASA and the National Coalition for Public Education