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Thursday, April 7, 2011

The School Voucher Scam

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The vicious scam behind Milwaukee's school voucher program is becoming public for all to see. The program is about to take another ugly turn by transferring money from our neediest students to the most privileged.

It was always suspicious that right-wing Republicans were enthusiastically supporting a tax-funded government program they claimed would help poor children of color receive a quality education.

Historically, the right has consistently fought tax funds going to people in need, especially those who are not white. The only government programs they support are huge tax cuts and corporate welfare benefiting the wealthy.

For two decades, voucher supporters resisted testing of poor children receiving private school vouchers to track their performance. Now we all know why.

The first comparison of voucher students to their matched counterparts in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) shows the publicly stated premise of the voucher program is a fraud.

Poor children using tax vouchers to attend private schools are not receiving a better education than students with a similar background attending public schools. In fact, they perform worse on state achievement tests.

The academic researchers hired by the state to examine the results later tried to fuzz up those numbers, saying some children do about the same.

But the fact remains we've spent billions of tax dollars for private school vouchers for more than 20 years and private schools aren't any more successful than public schools in educating children of color and closing the state's appalling black-white achievement gap.

The voucher results look even worse when you consider that private schools routinely shun special needs children, leaving them to the public schools to educate.

According to the researchers, only a minuscule 1.5% of voucher students have special needs, compared to nearly 20% of MPS students.

So working with the most promising of impoverished students from Milwaukee—those without special needs who have highly motivated parents searching for better schools for their children—voucher schools fail completely to deliver any educational improvement.

Another Tax Giveaway for the Wealthy

The reaction of supporters to this first concrete evidence of the failure of the voucher program has been brazenly dishonest.

First, they continued their long-held opposition to voucher school students being required to take state achievement tests. Republican Gov. Scott Walker is attempting to kill the requirement.

Apparently, if the public doesn't know voucher schools are failing to improve the academic performance of poor children, supporters think they can continue taking tax money away from public schools and shoveling it into private schools forever.

A subtle shift in rhetoric by voucher supporters is even more insidious. Supporters of the program now pretend it doesn't matter whether poor children do better academically in voucher schools or not.

The point is, they say, low-income parents now have more choices available to them. Of course, a choice that doesn't produce any better results isn't much of a choice.

And get this. They say that even if voucher students don't do any better, the program is still a tremendous success because it accomplishes the same result at half the cost.

We all need to remember the history of two separate systems of education in this country, one public and the other private.

Public schools were the great democratic guarantee to every child in America. Every child, regardless of economic circumstances, was promised a comprehensive basic education to get started on the path to success in life.

Because we all benefited economically whether we had children or not, we all paid for public schools through our taxes.

Beyond that basic guarantee, the most privileged among us always want more for their own children and have the financial ability to provide it. So they set up a private school system for their own children and paid for it 100% themselves.

Fair enough, so far.

But the voucher program started confusing those two systems. Suddenly, taxes from all of us were subsidizing private schools—many of them religious—that were not open to everyone.

Even though we weren't putting as much tax money into private schools for each student as the full cost of education in public schools, we were still providing a nice, fat subsidy.

Remember, private schools previously had to raise 100% of their funds from among their own supporters. Anything they got from tax vouchers was gravy.

Now it's become obvious that the promise that private schools would provide a better education for low-income children was just a ruse using poor children as pawns.

Not only have voucher schools failed to improve the academic performance of those children, but in his next two-year budget, Gov. Walker let the other boot drop.

Walker wants to start lifting income restrictions for private school vouchers and ultimately abolish them entirely.

With taxpayers supporting two educational systems instead of one, funds for public schools, where needs are the greatest, are drastically reduced and, suddenly, a government program sold as a benefit to the poor becomes just another tax giveaway to the wealthy.