Archives for category: Vouchers

Governor Scott Walker released a budget proposal that contains no significant increase in funding for public schools, but a large expansion of vouchers and charters for the entire state. He wants to remove the cap on the number of students who may receive vouchers to attend private and religious schools but maintain the income limit of about $44,122 for a family of four. He wants a new charter board that he and his allies control. He wants to withdraw support for the Common Core exam known as Smarter Balanced and to cancel Milwaukee’s integration funding. He proposes to lower standards for those entering teaching and to introduce A-F letter grades (a Jeb Bush invention):


If enacted, the proposals would cause major waves in the state’s public school systems, which have faced an onslaught of reforms in recent years, both financially and academically.


The governor’s budget calls for throwing out the new state standardized achievement exam aligned with the Common Core academic standards, which is set to be administered to students in third through eighth grade for the first time this spring.


And he wants schools to receive A-F letter grades on their state report cards, instead of the current descriptions explaining how well they’re meeting expectations.


Walker’s budget plan would also make it easier for anyone with a bachelor’s degree and real-world experience to get a license to become a middle or high school teacher. And to free up aid for districts statewide, the governor wants to end the Chapter 220 program designed to help racially integrate Milwaukee’s city and suburban schools — something he says will redirect $60 million in aid to other districts.


Even the state superintendent complained that Walker’s budget shortchanged public schools:


State Superintendent Tony Evers noted the governor’s budget offered no increase in the revenue limit for public schools, which is the total amount districts can raise per pupil in state aid and property taxes.


“That’s huge,” he said. “Schools are at the breaking point.”


Will this improve education in Wisconsin? Not likely, since vouchers in Milwaukee have not improved the performance of students receiving them, and several of Milwaukee’s charters are in academic distress. Letter grades have nothing to do with school improvement; they are a strategy that typically places extra emphasis on standardized test scores and sets low-scoring schools up for closure. As for inviting non-educators to become middle-school and high-school teachers, that might provide a new labor force to replace experienced teachers, but it is hard to see how it leads to better instruction to turn students over to people who have never taught and have no preparation to do so.


Ever since the state of Louisiana began its voucher program, allowing students to attend religious schools with public funds, the program has gone from one embarrassment to another. The school that won the most vouchers was a small rural church school; it was thrown out if the program for financial errors. Some schools taught creationism. The state court ruled that the state could not fund vouchers by taking money from funding dedicated to public schools.

And now this. Danielle Dreillinger reports in the Néw Orleans Times-Picayune that 1/3 of the state’s voucher students attend low-performing schools.

“One third of Louisiana’s voucher students are enrolled at private schools doing such a poor job of educating them that the schools have been barred from taking new voucher students, according to Education Department data. The schools include four in Jefferson Parish, eight in New Orleans and six in Baton Rouge.

“The Louisiana Scholarship Program lets children from low-income families attend participating private schools at taxpayer expense if they have been at C-, D- or F-graded public schools or are entering kindergarten. Now in its third year, the program has been threatened by local and federal lawsuits, but total enrollment continues growing, from 6,775 in 2013-14 to 7,362 students this year.”

Max Brantley, a fearless blogger in Arkansas (and former editor of the Arkansas Times), wrote an analysis of the Arkansas State Board of Education’s decision to takeover the Little Rock School Board. “The Billionaires Boys Club and its allies at the chamber of commerce won a hard-won and well-orchestrated battle,” he wrote.


Look who is on the state board:


The votes for takeover included Diane Zook, wife of Randy Zook, head of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and aunt of Gary Newton, who heads several organizations financed by the Walton Family Foundation and advocates establishment of charter schools. Others included Vicki Saviers of Little Rock, who’s served on the board of the pro-charter-school Arkansans for Education Reform, a lobby financed by the Waltons and other wealthy Arkansans. She also helped found the eStem charter school in Little Rock, another beneficiary of Walton money. Another takeover vote was Kim Davis of Fayetteville, director of external relations for the Northwest Arkansas Council, a private development group whose key backers are the Walton Family Foundation, Sam’s Club and Tyson Foods. The other vote for takeover, besides Ledbetter, was Toyce Newton of Crossett, who heads Phoenix Youth and Family Services. She has served on the Board of the Rockefeller Foundation, which has been partnering with the Walton Family Foundation on an education improvement project. Saviers is on the Rockefeller Foundation board as well. The Rockefeller Foundation is a financial contributor to Newton’s nonprofit.


You know what will happen next, right? You remember that Carrie Walton Penner told Forbes that her vision for “fixing” education in America was charter schools, vouchers, and a free market in schooling.



I was invited to write an article for the New York Daily News reviewing Governor Cuomo’s recently announced “opportunity agenda” for education.


Here is what I wrote.


The Daily News published other articles praising the Governor’s plans for toughening teacher evaluations, adding more charters, and introducing voucher legislation. Given the limitation of 800 words, I was unable to write about the noxious effects of vouchers, which have succeeded nowhere.


It is an agenda that will subject the state’s children to more testing, more test prep, and less of everything that they enjoy about school.


It is an agenda that will ignores expert opinion about the harmful effects of judging teachers by the test scores of their students.


It is an agenda that is innately hostile to public education.



Politico reports that school choice advocates are flocking to Capitol Hill in hopes of getting federal legislation to promote vouchers. The irony of vouchers is that they have been on state ballots many times but have never won popular approval. Most recently, they were turned down in Florida by a decisive majority, although that didn’t stop the state legislature from pushing vouchers wherever they could get them past the courts. When the Utah legislature passed the nation’s most sweeping voucher bill in 2007, giving vouchers to all students to attend a private or religious school, voters rejected the plan by a 60%+ margin in November 2007. Voucher advocates who paid for the campaign to pass them (led by the CEO of said that the voters were stupid and had failed an I.Q. test.


Nonetheless, expect the Republican Congress to come up with school choice legislation. Will President Obama sign it?


Politico writes:


SCHOOL CHOICE WEEK HITS THE HILL: School choice advocates will pack serious star power this morning on Capitol Hill at a gathering celebrating National School Choice Week. House Majority Leader John Boehner is on tap to give the keynote address and Reps. Steve Scalise, John Kline, Todd Rokita and Virginia Foxx as well as Sens.Tim Scott and Ted Cruz are slated to attend. A parent of a D.C. voucher recipient is also scheduled to speak, and organizers expect more than 250 attendees. The event starts at 8:50 a.m ET at the Cannon House Office Building, Room 345.


- Indiana Rep. Luke Messer, who was recently elected to a position in House leadership, is continuing his push on school choice: He’s scheduled to be master of ceremonies at today’s event and is also reintroducing a school choice proposal he put out last year. Vouchers might not fit into the “political reality” of the push to reauthorize No Child Left Behind this year, Messer said Tuesday, but he emphasized that he’s in it for the long haul and that “every idea has its time.” More from Maggie Severns:


Chester Finn, one of the nation’s leading conservative thinkers and president emeritus of the rightwing Thomas B. Fordham Institute wrote an article in the New York Daily News saluting Andrew Cuomo for his forceful advocacy of charters and, especially, vouchers.

Since Néw York’s constitution has an amendment barring any public payment for tuition at religious schools, Cuomo calls it a tax-credit scholarship program. Republicans usually use the euphemism “opportunity scholarships.” But no one is fooled. The goal in New York and elsewhere is to subsidize the tuition of students at religious schools.

Finn writes:

“Cuomo is, to the best of my knowledge, the first Democratic governor ever to propose a program of private-school choice for kids and families in his state. Others (in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Arizona, maybe elsewhere) have tolerated this sort of thing when it originated outside of their offices, but this is the first time a state’s Democratic chief exec has taken the lead.”

What Checker Finn does not mention is that voters have never approved public support for vouchers in any state.

FYI, I was a trustee of the Fordham Institute for many years and a very close friend of Checker Finn. We even wrote books together. But I never agreed with him about vouchers, nor in his contempt for unions, nor in his fervent advocacy of anything that weakens public education. Maybe we differed because I graduated from public school, and he graduated from Exeter.

The Néw Yorker has a long article about Jeb Bush’s passionate interest in reforming public education by high-stakes testing, report cards, and privatization. Since his own children attend private schools, they are not affected by his grand redesign of public education.

To boil down his approach, regular public schools get loaded down with mandates and regulations. Charter schools are free of mandates and regulations, and many are run for profit. As public schools are squeezed by the competition with charters, they get larger classes and fewer programs. Meanwhile, Bush’s friends and allies get very rich.

It is a thorough story about Jeb Bush’s mission to turn public education into an industry.. One conclusion: If he were elected President, it would be the end of public education as we have known it for more than 150 years.

In what seems to be a trend, the new Lt-Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, has assembled a committee of 55 leaders of business and industry to advise him on state policies, including education. There do not appear to be any educators on the panel. Lt-Gov-elect Patrick is a strong proponent of vouchers.


Last month, the Governor of Nevada created a committee of business leaders to advise him on education policy without appointing any educators to join it.


It seems to be a well-established principle in today’s “reform” climate that business leaders and politicians are experts about education, and there is no reason to ask educators to have any say in state or federal policy.

I have had many exchanges with “reformers” who denied that they wanted to destroy public education and replace it with a privatized system. No, they insisted, competition will be good for the public schools. Charters and vouchers will improve public schools. I disagreed because I had heard many of their allies speak truthfully about their desire to privatize the public spending on education, behind closed doors, back when I was with them.

Now we know that competition doesn’t improve public schools. It takes money away from public schools. It weakens them.

But what do “reformers” want? Let them tell you. Jeanne Allen, who founded the Center for Education Reform after working for the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation in D.C., has advocated for charters and vouchers for more than two decades. In a few weeks, she will offer a seminar at the Center called “The Decline and Fall of the U.S. Education System – The Development of a Movement.”

That’s the goal of reform. Weakening and privatizing public education.

Mercedes Schneider here recounts the sad story of Louisiana’s voucher program.

Vouchers were piloted in Néw Orleans, then made available to students across the state in 2012-13. Governor Bobby Jindal and State Commissioner of Education John White foresaw a revolutionary change with tens of thousands of public school students fleeing their “failing” schools to enroll in private and religious schools, where they would enjoy a first-rate education.

But it didn’t happen. The original plan was to divert funding from the state’s minimum foundation funding for public schools, but the courts said the plan was unconstitutional. Then it turned out that the school offering the largest number of vouchers was a small church school without a curriculum or certified teachers. Within a year, it was disqualified for mishandling public money.

The biggest problems, however, were the lack of demand for vouchers by students and the many private schools that did not want voucher students. Less than 10% of students in schools rated D or F asked for a voucher: Not exactly a stampede for the exits.

Added to that was the lackluster performance of students in voucher schools, which was below the state average.

Now John White is offering additional incentives (money) to induce more private schools to accept vouchers.

Sad. No transformation. No flight from public schools. A bust.


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