Voucher school systems and charter schools have been a hot topic in the world of education since the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was appointed earlier this year.
DeVos, an advocate for voucher systems and charter schools, plans to support these two educational systems during her term. Fox Business states, “DeVos is a firm believer that a child should not be limited to a school district based on their family’s income or zip code, a view in line with comments from the President. She has advocated for a controversial school voucher in the past, which allocates federal taxpayer dollars to provide children the opportunity to attend private and religious institutions.”
According to Business Insider, charter schools are schools that are privately run but funded publicly. “They are free to deviate from most state guidelines–excluding tests–and can range in size from one student learning at home to thousands across the country.”
School voucher programs are systems that use government funding and allow students to attend private institutions. Voucher schools receive federal funding, but have the ability take away federal rights of students, especially to special-needs students.
Voucher schools systems exist with the idea of allowing parents to select which school they want their children to attend. Business Insider states, “An education voucher lets parents apply that money [given by a voucher] to a private or religious school, perhaps if they live in an area with bad public schools or want to give their child a specific kind of education. With a voucher, they can attend a school to which their family otherwise has no access.”
According to an article written by Nancy Bailey, most vouchers currently go towards special-needs students with the help of providing them a better education. Vouchers aim to provide students with a better education than what students would receive in traditional public schools, Bailey states in her article “[T]here is no evidence vouchers do better than programs in traditional public school. In most cases students do worse, and they lose their rights to due process under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).”
Voucher Schools Limit the Resources of Special-Needs Students
According to Business Insider, “In many states, special-needs kids who use vouchers must surrender the federal protections afforded to them by the Individual with Disabilities Education Act IDEA”.
IDEA benefits special-needs students, such as providing certain legal protection if a child acts out in school because of their disability, protections regarding the teacher’s qualifications, and guarantee’s that students will receive an education similar to what a tradition public-school student would receive.
What most parents don’t know is that they strip special-needs students of their rights.
According to Business Insiders, “In Wisconsin, for example, these vouchers cost public school districts $2.4 million in state aid. The money helped fund 202 students with disabilities to attend private schools. Critics of the Wisconsin voucher program, such as the family coalition Stop Special Needs Vouchers, argue the laws leave private schools free to ignore IDEA’s protections, which makes voucher programs less effective yet still costly to taxpayers and possibly detrimental to public schools.”
In an article published by the New York Times, parents who use the vouchers for special-needs students, such as the McKay Scholarship program, are largely unaware that by participating in these programs, they are waving most of their child’s rights under IDEA.
According to the New York Times article, McKay is the largest of 10 disability scholarship programs across the United States. The McKay scholarship servers over 30,000 special needs students. While parents who are eligible for this may find this as a help, using the voucher program may actually limit a child’s education.
“Depending on the voucher program, the rights being waived can include the right to a free education; the right to the same level of special-education services that a child would be eligible for in a public school; the right to a state-certified or college-educated teacher; and the right to a hearing to dispute disciplinary action against a child,” the article states.
Albright Education Professor Dr. Rodney Warfield teaches special education courses to students studying in the education field. “Voucher schools are like any other form of education; there are goods and bads to them,” Warfield states. “Some children will excel in them, some children will not.”
As a professor who teaches special education courses, Warfield believes that whether or not a special education student will succeed in a voucher school depends on how the particular school is set up and how it relates to federal law. “I think the child is always at a loss in this case because he is not always getting the services that he needs nor is he getting the accommodations that are appropriate to him,” states Warfield.
Junior early childhood education major Ashlee Brandt is strongly against the voucher school system. “As an early childhood education major, I really care about students. I believe that children with special-needs have needs that must be met. If their needs aren’t met, that doesn’t help them succeed,” states Brandt. “I feel that [voucher schools] should try to work to help special-needs students and not take away any of their rights.”
What Taxpayers Don’t Know About Voucher Schools
“Charter schools and voucher schools have minimal transparency and limited accountability That lack of transparency results in scandal and theft.,” The Washington Post
Parents aren’t the only ones to be concerned about voucher programs, taxpayers are funding these institutions whether they realize it or not.
According to an article published by The Washington Post, “A 2002 conservative estimate for a national voucher program could cost as much as $73 billion.”
Taxpayers would not only be covering the costs for voucher programs to exist entirely, but allows for these institutions to select which students attend the schools. Voucher schools have the ability to reject students on numerous factors including religious belief, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, discipline history, and disabilities, to name a few.
Not only do voucher schools strip away students from their federal rights and discriminate on a number of factors, but several schools have been under investigation for the embezzlement of funds by an administrator.
The Washington Post goes into detail about several scandals of both voucher school systems and charter schools. One voucher school in Milwaukee received millions of tax dollars. The same voucher school was being operated by a convicted rapist.
Another example provided by The Washington Post centers on the Indiana state school voucher program that was helped being passed by former governor– now vice president Mike Pence. The program promised that it would help poor and lower-middle class families so that these parents could find schools that they liked for their children. Only five years after being in place more than half of the state’s voucher recipients have never attended an Indianan public school. Because of this, many vouchers were going to wealthier families, families earning up to $90,000 for a household of four, according to the article.
Emma Morrill, a junior early childhood education major at Albright College is against the voucher school system. “It has been researched that [voucher schools] don’t work,” Morrill states. “I think that every student should have an equal opportunity. Voucher schools don’t provide that for it’s students, especially for students with disabilities. I think that [Betsy DeVos] is telling people that [voucher school systems] will save the taxpayers money but in reality it’s going to be even more expensive and public schools will suffer.”
Voucher Schools in High Poverty Cities
While the thought of voucher schools may benefit students who live in high poverty cities with school districts who have low performance levels. In an article published by Casey Quinlan about President Trump’s education plans, voucher schools are something that are on his agenda. Trump may not be aware of how voucher schools could hurt low-income students and families.
The use of vouchers will ultimately divert federal funds that go towards public school to the private schools, thus making struggling school districts struggle even more.
In a city like Reading, Pennsylvania, poverty is at an all time high. As a result, the Reading school districts have begun providing breakfast and lunch to all students every day. If voucher schools become in option in poorer regions, money that goes towards public schools will then be cut for the voucher schools.
Quinlan states in her article, “[T]eachers unions say these vouchers only divert funds away from struggling public schools and toward schools that don’t properly serve disadvantaged students.”
By allowing these school programs into high poverty regions, students and educators will suffer from budget cuts, which may lead to the elimination of free breakfast and lunch for every student, causing thousands of children to go hungry.
Overall, voucher schools pose as a threat to the rights of special-needs students and taxpayers. What will come out of DeVos’ term? Will voucher schools become an option for parents and students in the Reading area? Will inner-city students be able to choose which school they attend?