Archives for category: Vouchers

Governor Rick Scott signed legislation to expand the state’s voucher program, despite the opposition of the state’s PTA associations, the NAACP, the teachers’ unions, and the League of United Latin American Citizens. Critics said the vouchers would drain resources from public schools. The voucher expansion was a high priority for former Governor Jeb Bush, who is a power in the state.

Rita Solnet, president of the Florida chapter of Parents Across America, said:

“Voucher schools will not be held to Florida’s Common Core curriculum nor will they have to deliver its associated, highly trumpeted, high stakes tests that 2.6 M other FL students endure. No merit pay, no need to pursue credentialed teachers, no accountability for $3 billion of public tax dollars.

“Had the Governor not signed SB 850 today, the voucher program would have still grown to nearly $1 billion anyways with the escalators built in.

“Something is very wrong when the agency services 59K students in primarily religious schools and they admittedly provided false numbers for an alleged wait list. Something is very wrong when their non profit president is on video admitting to giving away a million dollars each year to legislators who favor voucher programs.

“Siphoning $3 billion away from 2.6 M students is shameful.”

Parents and educators are urging Governor Rick Scott to veto the expansion of vouchers, which drains money from public schools.

Scott is up for re-election.

“Members of the Florida PTA, grass roots parent groups, the Florida Conference of NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the statewide teachers union have launched a campaign against the bill, which they say will drain taxpayer dollars from already cash-strapped public schools.

“We stand united in our opposition to voucher expansion,” said Mindy Gould, who oversees legislative affairs for the PTA. “The governor needs to know that…..

“Other groups involved in the campaign against the proposal include the Florida School Boards Association, the League of Women Voters, the Spanish American League Against Discrimination, and the Sant Le Haitian Neighborhood Service Center in Miami, according to the PTA.”

Scott, a conservative who supports privatization, has until June 28 to act.

Florida has a voucher for program for students with disabilities, called McKay scholarships. A story in Florida’s “Sun-Sentinel” revealed that a sizable number of these students with vouchers attend schools that do not have any full-time teachers with special education training or certification.

Dan Sweeney of the “Sun-Sentinel” writes:

“Learning disabled students can get up to $19,829 of taxpayer money each year to attend private school if they choose – but there is no state accountability to ensure the kids’ needs are being met.

“The law that created the vouchers does not require private schools to have anyone on staff with any sort of certification in dealing with children with learning disabilities. Nor are there public controls in place to check whether the schools are helping them.

“In Palm Beach County, 1,232 children receive $8.5 million in state voucher money. How much they get depends on on the severity of their disabilities, with amounts ranging from $4,125 to $19,829.

“There are 59 private schools in the county that accept the vouchers – and at least 28 of them don’t have full-time special education teachers.

“If someone wants to pay for a school that has no standards out of their own pocket, they’re free to do that. This is America,” said Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder of Fund Education Now, an organization that advocates for public education in the state of Florida. “But when you’re taking public dollars and you’re putting them into these private schools that are not regulated and have no obligation to meet the same standards that we impose on our public schools, that’s when the public should become concerned.”

And Sweeney adds:

“The voucher law only requires that private school teachers pass a background check and have a bachelor’s degree and three years of teaching experience or “special skills, knowledge, or expertise that qualifies them to provide instruction in subjects taught.”

“There is no limit on how many students can receive the McKay scholarship – it is solely based on need.

“To qualify, kids need to be on an Individual Education Plan, which sets educational goals for a child and allows for specialized instruction.

“But “once the family leaves the district on a McKay scholarship to a private school, the [plan] is no longer valid. Private schools are not required to follow the [plan] created by district personnel,” said Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education.

“And nobody from the state or district checks to see if the children’s’ needs are being met.”

This is not the first time that a reporter has called attention to the bsence of oversight or regulation of the McKay scholarship program.

In 2011, reporter Gus Garcia-Roberts wrote a blistering exposé of the program, which he called “a cottage industry of fraud and chaos,” sending millions of public dollars to voucher schools that lacked curriculum or qualified staff. Garcia-Roberts won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service journalism for the story. But the McKay program continues to be unregulated, unsupervised, and one in which public funds follow students to schools un equipped to meet their needs.

The Friedman Foundation, which has been porting vouchers and the dissolution of traditional public schools for many years, here disagrees with Peter Greene’s critique of school choice. The foundation’s namesake, Milton Friedman, began advocating for vouchers in 1955. The idea didn’t gain any traction until 1990, when Milwaukee adopted a voucher program. Today, Milwaukee is one of the nation’s lowest performing districts on NAEP, only a tad above Detroit. If anyone wants evidence of the in effectiveness of vouchers, check out Milwaukee. As we near a quarter-century of the voucher experiment, it may be time to say “we tried vouchers.” No miracle in sight.

By the way, voters have never approved vouchers. In every district or state where they exist, they were enacted by a legislative body, not by voters.

Peter Greene maintains that advocates of school choice have sold us a pig in a poke. Or maybe they put lipstick on a pig. Whatever. He says that school choice is unAmerican.

The goal of school choice is to turn us into consumers whose only interest is the welfare of our own child. But, he says, we all have an interest in the well-being of public schools, even if we don’t have children. Not only that, but school choice eviscerates local control of education.

He writes:

“The educated human who emerges from school will become a neighbor, an employee, a parent, a spouse, a voter, a (one hopes) involved citizen, a person whose job will contribute in some way to the life of the community. Everybody who will ever deal with her in any of those capacities shares the benefits of that education. They are all “customers” of public education. Whether they are relatives of the educatee or not is hardly the point.

“We all have a stake in public education. We all pay taxes to support public education. And we all get to vote on who will manage the operation of our schools (well, unless we are in occupied territories like Philadelphia or Newark).

“School choice throws all of that out the window. Do you think it’s a bad idea for a student to attend Flat Earth High School or Racial Purity Elementary School or God Is Dead Day School? Well, under school choice, if you don’t have a kid, you don’t have a voice. Too bad for you.

“Oh, your tax dollars will still go to that cute school where the mascot is Jesus riding a dinosaur– but whether you’re upset because that mascot is ironic or because it isn’t, you don’t get to complain.”

Peter Greene says that there are at least four good reasons why conservatives hold oppose school choice. Before I tell you what his four reasons are, I will tell you that there are even more reasons for conservatives to support public schools. Conservatives generally are not radicals or anarchists; they typically “conserve” traditional institutions, not blow hem up and start over. Conservatives usually defend local control, yet the far-right organization ALEC has model legislation to create a state commission to override local school boards that reject charter schools. How did conservatives get on the side that seeks to eliminate local control? The answer is that ALEC speaks for big corporations, not for small-government conservatives.

Peter Greene sees other reasons why conservatives should oppose school choice.

First, because it does not cut costs and is not efficient to replace one school with several schools, each with its own administrative overhead.

Second, because competition will not lead to domination of the “market” by big corporations and chains, replacing local oversight with corporate control.

To learn his other reasons, open the link.

A circuit court judge in Alabama ruled that a law to give public dollars to private schools is unconstitutional.

“A program that pro-public education activists have called a throwback to the 1950s–a time when Alabama tried avoiding integration by directing public school funds to private schools–has been ruled unconstitutional by a Montgomery County circuit court judge.

“The Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 targeted students attending public schools that the state deemed “failing.” Instead of providing real solutions to help all students gain access to a quality public education, the Accountability Act starved public schools of critical funding.

“The law created a tax-credit program that used public dollars to reimburse the cost of tuition to those parents who pulled their children out of public schools and enrolled them in private or religious schools. Tax credits were also given to companies and individuals who gave money to certain organizations to fund scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools.
The program cost taxpayers $40 million during the 2013-14 fiscal year, yet, studies show that voucher and tuition tax-credit schemes don’t result in a better education for students.”

The law was challenged by the Alabama Education Association. It is sure to be appealed.

New Orleans will soon be the first urban district in the nation that is all-charter, the first district where public education has been completely extinguished.

Because so much money has been invested in the privatization of the schools in New Orleans, there is a media machine that cranks out favorable stories about it. The state board of education, the state department of education, and the Governor are determined to prove that privatization was successful.

But there is another side to the story. Read it here. Read about a district that has low rankings on state measures, a district that has depended on fluctuating state standards, a district that depends on Teach for America, where charter leaders are paid handsomely.

Raynard Sanders, a professional educator and critic of the Recovery School District, says that New Orleans is a great case study:

“It’s a system where many of the schools take in only the most desirable students and then “create an economic opportunity for the people who operate the school,” he said. And many have been hurt in the process of experimentation, Sanders said, “because the rights of students and the sanctity of public education have been trampled on and forgotten about….”

“In New Orleans, the privateers got everything they wanted and more, and still failed, Sanders said. “It is a great case study, and also one of the biggest scams done on public education – and parents and students — in the history of the country.”

Linda Thomas is the school board president of a small rural district in Arizona. She is a strong advocate for public education as a public responsibility.

In this post, she reminds us that 85% of children in Arizona attend public schools despite the state ‘s trepidation as the “wild west” of charters.

She also describes the legislsture’s devious efforts to expand vouchers.

She writes:

“When vouchers (aka Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) were first introduced in 2011, only children with disabilities were eligible. That has now expanded to include children: who’s parent’s are in the armed forces, are a ward of the juvenile court, who attend a school or district assigned a D or F grade, are eligible to attend kindergarten, and who received a School Tuition Organization scholarship. This session, expansion efforts include those whose siblings receive ESAs, all first responder’s children and (HB 2291) children currently eligible for free or reduced lunch percent. HB 2291 also seeks to further raise the income threshold of those who qualify by 15 percent ever year going forward.

“ESA funds can be used for curriculum, testing, private school tuition, tutors, special needs services or therapies, or even seed money for college. The program however, requires parents to waive their child’s right to a public education…a right that is guaranteed under the state constitution, in order to receive the benefits.”

School choice, she says, is a smokescreen. The real goal is to transfer public funds to private hands. The one risk to voucher advocates is attaching any form of accountability. They want the money, no strings attached.

Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig of the University of Texas is trying to raise funding to take a research team to Chile to study the failure of the voucher progr. He needs your help. Tickets cost either $1,000 round trip or 30,000-60,000 frequent flyer miles. Please consider sponsoring a member of his research team. We can learn from what happened in Chile. With so many states adopting voucher plans without evidence, we should get the facts now from the world’s longest running voucher program.

Chile has had vouchers for decades. They did not improve education, and they increased social segregation. The newly elected government of Chile plans to pare back the choice system that was launched during the regime of the military dictator Pinochet. Help Professor Heilig and his team gather the facts about vouchers and inform our policymakers.


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