Archives for category: Vouchers

The Walton Family Foundation gave away $375 million last year. It gave away $202 million to educational groups.

The foundation’s money is generated by the vast earnings of Walmart. The foundation was established in 1987 by Sam Walton. At least six of the Walton family members are billionaires, maybe more. As they die off, the foundation will grow larger.

The leader of the education part of the Walton Foundation is Marc Sternberg, who worked for Joel Klein in the Néw York City Department of Education. From 2010 to 2013, Sternberg was in charge of school closures and charter co-locations inside public schools.

The foundation is not only very wealthy, it has an ideology. It is rightwing. It is reactionary. It does not like public schools. It favors privatization and deregulation, which is what you might expect of a powerful corporation that hates government telling it what to do (like paying its employees a living wage). It hates unions. It loves charters and vouchers.

You might ask, how can billionaires sleep at night when they know their employees are surviving on meager earnings? I don’t know. Maybe they don’t think about it. Maybe they say, “Tough. That’s life. Life is unfair. Where’s my Bentley?”

I think you will find it enlightening to see where its money went in the 2014 year.

The biggest chunks went to Teach for America and KIPP.

Here are some of the many beneficiaries of the Walton family’s largesse:


50CAN, INC. ($2.5 MILLION);
MIND TRUST ($500,000); Indianapolis
TEACH PLUS ($250,000);
THE NEW YORK TIMES ($150,000);

In addition,


The latest from Nevada, where the ACLU-Nevada is already suing to block vouchers. Another suit is filed:

ALERT! Public School Parents And Children File Lawsuit To Declare Nevada Vouchers Unconstitutional
Vouchers Violate Nevada Constitutional Ban on Diverting Public School Funding to Private Schools

Today, five parents whose children attend Nevada public schools filed a lawsuit challenging the State’s new voucher law – Senate Bill 302. The lawsuit claims that the voucher law violates the Nevada Constitution’s explicit ban on using public school funding for private schools. The lawsuit also seeks to permanently block the State Treasurer from implementing the voucher program.

In enacting SB302, the Nevada Legislature authorized the most expansive program of private school vouchers in the United States. The voucher law directs the State Treasurer to deposit funds appropriated by the Legislature for the operation of the Nevada public schools into private accounts to pay for private school tuition, online classes, home-based curriculums and related expenses, tutoring, transportation to and from private schools, and other private expenses.

The parents and students filed the lawsuit, Lopez v. Schwartz, in the First Judicial District Court in Carson City. More public school parents and their children are expected to join the lawsuit in the coming weeks.

Educate Nevada Now (ENN), a campaign of The Rogers Foundation, assembled a team of experienced Nevada and national attorneys to ensure that Nevada law protects and advances education opportunities for all children. ENN is supporting this lawsuit because it addresses using public funding for private schools, an issue of vital importance to all Nevada public school children and taxpayers – and one that must be resolved by the Nevada courts.

“The Nevada Constitution makes it crystal clear that the funding provided for our public schools can only be used to operate those schools, and not for any other purpose,” said Justin Jones, an attorney with Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin LLP, Nevada-based pro bono counsel for the plaintiffs. “The voucher law, by taking funding out of the public schools to pay for private school tuition and other private services, blatantly violates this explicit mandate enshrined in our state constitution.”

The parents and students contend that the voucher law violates the Education Article of the Nevada Constitution in three ways:

⦁ The voucher law by its terms diverts funds earmarked by the Legislature exclusively for the operation of the public schools to pay for private schools and other private expenditures.

⦁ The voucher law reduces State-guaranteed funding for the public schools below the level determined to be sufficient by the Legislature in the biennium budgets.

⦁ The voucher law allows public school funding to pay for private schools that do not have to comply with the “uniform” non-discrimination, education performance and accountability standards all Nevada public schools must follow.

The parents filed the lawsuit to prevent loss of funding from their children’s public schools to pay for private schools. Under SB302, even families who can readily afford to pay the full cost of private school tuition are eligible to receive public funds. The voucher law will reduce funding for the public schools while at the same time requiring those schools to educate a higher concentration of high needs children, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and students at risk due to family and neighborhood poverty, homelessness, transiency and other disadvantages.

“The voucher law undermines our uniform system of public schools which the Legislature is constitutionally obligated to maintain and support with sufficient funding,” said Sylvia Lazos, Policy Director for Educate Nevada Now. “This lawsuit does not challenge the right of parents to choose a private or religious school for their child. But it does seek to ensure that public school funding is not diverted and depleted by subsidizing that choice.”

The complaint filed today complements the lawsuit filed by ACLU-Nevada last week to block the use of taxpayer funds for religious schooling but raises a separate and independent basis under the Nevada constitution for invalidating the voucher law.

In addition to the Wolf, Rifkin attorneys, David Sciarra and Amanda Morgan of the non-profit Education Law Center (ELC) in Newark, NJ, and Las Vegas, a partner in the ENN campaign, are representing the students and parents. They are also represented pro bono by Tamerlin Godley, Litigation Partner, and associates from Munger, Tolles and Olson in Los Angeles.

Read the complaint.

Vouchers are a bad idea, and the public doesn’t support them. Time after time, vouchers have been put on state ballots, and every single time they have been defeated. They were defeated overwhelmingly in Utah in 2007, with 62%-38% of the vote, and defeated most recently in Florida in 2012, by a vote of 58%-42%. Yet, with the help of the far-right ALEC and its model legislation, several state legislatures have created voucher programs without going to the voters. Even in states that explicitly ban the use of public funds for religious institutions, the legislatures have coined some euphemism like “opportunity scholarship” or, as in Nevada, “education savings accounts.” A voucher is a voucher is a voucher.

I tweeted this message; I hope you will too: Should taxpayer $ go to religious schools? @ACLUNV says no & Nevada agrees. Support separation of church & state!

Here is an appeal from the ACLU:

Last week we filed a major lawsuit against the state of Nevada to stop the voucher program that diverts taxpayer funds to religious schools. The program was passed by the Nevada Legislature and signed by Governor Sandoval this year.

Parents have a right to send their children to religious schools, but they are not entitled to do so at taxpayers’ expense. Do you want your tax dollars going to fund a parent’s preferred religious school choice? We don’t and that’s why we are suing to stop it.

Proponents of the new program bristle at our use of the term “voucher” instead of their preferred description of “education savings accounts,” but we do that because we know better — these accounts will do nothing to save education, but will in fact destroy education across the state. Is it any wonder why this program was written and proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)?

In just three short days we have seen those who seek to dismantle public education and divert education money to private religious purposes attack us and the plaintiffs for daring to thwart their plans. They are even attacking Ruby Duncan, the lead plaintiff and longtime civil rights, education, and welfare rights champion. What these pro-voucher forces don’t know is how firmly we believe this voucher program violates the separation of church and state and how resolute Ruby is in standing up for kids and providing them the education that they deserve. Ruby was honored when a school was named after her to recognize all the work she has done in making sure every child is educated and now they want to question her motives.

Share this victory with your friends, family, and any allies that believe that liberty is only possible when the separation of church and state is secure.


Tod Story
Executive Director
ACLU of Nevada

P.S. Lawsuits are hard work, they require resources, and take time, but we are in this until the end. We need your help in ensuring we can fight this battle all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court. Donate now to help provide the resources we need in this battle — and in all our efforts to protect your rights.

Governor Scott Walker continues his war of attrition against public education, especially in Milwaukee. Despite the fact that the public schools of Milwaukee outperform its voucher schools, Walker is cutting the budget of the more effective public schools and increasing funding for the less effective voucher schools.

The following article was written by Molly Beck of the Wisconsin State Journal.

“The state will spend $258 million in the 2016-17 school year on private school vouchers, a new estimate shows.
At the same time, the amount of state aid sent to public schools will be reduced by $83 million to offset the voucher spending, for a net cost to the state of $175 million, according to an analysis drafted by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau in response to a request from Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, who opposes vouchers.

“The amount spent each year on vouchers will have increased by 77 percent next school year over 2011 levels, according to the estimate, as lawmakers have expanded the number of vouchers available to students and where they can be used.

“The amount of money spent has risen from $146 million in the 2011-12 school year to $236 million this school year.
The state spent $5.2 billion on public schools in 424 school districts last school year, according to the LFB, when it spent $213 million on vouchers used in 159 private schools.

“Over the six school years, $1.2 billion will be spent on school vouchers and about $30.6 billion will be sent to public schools during the same time, according to LFB and Department of Public Instruction data.

“The number of students using school vouchers to attend private schools grew from 22,439 during the 2011-12 school year to 29,609 last school year, according to the DPI. At the same time, 870,650 students attended public schools last year — which is about the same number that did in the 2011-12 school year. Enrollment grew to 873,531 in the 2013-14 school year before decreasing last school year.

“Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers have created new voucher programs in Racine and statewide to join the program in Milwaukee, created in 1990 as the country’s first.

“Milwaukee and Racine school districts have been allowed to raise property taxes to offset their reductions in state aid.

“Starting this school year, each voucher used outside of Milwaukee will be paid for using aid set aside for school districts. The districts won’t be able to raise taxes to make up the money, but will be able to start counting students using vouchers in their enrollment to determine state aid levels and revenue limits.

“Voucher payments are $7,210 for K-8 students $7,856 for high school students.

“Earlier this year, the LFB estimated between $600 and $800 million could be diverted from public schools over the next 10 years.”

The Wisconsin government has slashed funding for K-12 public schools while expanding and enriching the state’s voucher program. This is a clear-cut victory for ALEC, the corporate-funded lobby for privatization.

“Since Republicans took over our state Capitol in 2011, they have cut $1.2 billion from public K-12 education. Under this latest budget, 55 percent of school districts will get less general student aid than they did last budget cycle and Wisconsin is spending $1,014 less per public school student than it did in 2008.

“Yet for the private school special interests, this budget was like Christmas morning, with presents that blew the student enrollment caps off the statewide private school voucher program, diverted an additional $600-800 million from public schools over the next decade and increased per-pupil spending in the statewide private voucher system more than what even Governor Walker had proposed. The cherry on top was the last minute, late night passage of the special needs voucher program, which funds private schools for special needs students without requiring specialized instruction, teacher training or current legal protections.”

Way to go, Scott Walker, in meeting your goal of destroying public education. Way to go in destroying a historic democratic institution.

At last! Three civil liberties groups have sued to block the implementation of “education savings accounts” in Nevada, which are vouchers that will be used in religious schools.

LAS VEGAS – Three civil liberties organizations filed suit today in Nevada District Court to challenge a school voucher program signed into law last June by Gov. Brian Sandoval. The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued on behalf of a group of parents, clergy, and other taxpayers who oppose the program’s effort to divert taxpayer money to private, religious schools.

“Parents have a right to send their children to religious schools, but they are not entitled to do so at taxpayers’ expense. The voucher program violates the Nevada Constitution’s robust protections against the use of public funds for religious education,” said Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada. “This program allows public money to be spent at intuitions which operate with sectarian missions and goals and impart sectarian curricula. This is exactly what the Nevada Constitution forbids.”

Under the program, parents of students enrolled in public school for at least 100 days may transfer their children to participating private schools, including religious schools, and are eligible to receive thousands of dollars in public education funds to pay for tuition, textbooks, and other associated costs. The funds will be disbursed through so-called “Education Savings Accounts,” and there are no restrictions on how participating schools can use the money.

The lawsuit argues that the funding scheme violates Article XI Section 10 of the Nevada Constitution, which prohibits the use of public funds for any sectarian purpose. The lawsuit also claims that the program runs afoul of Article XI, Section 2, which requires the legislature to provide for a uniform system of common schools.

“The voucher program will use taxpayer dollars for religious education and indoctrination at a number of religious schools, many of which discriminate in admissions and employment,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “The program would be a huge loss for religious liberty if implemented.”

Daniel Luzer, the news editor of Governing magazine, reviews Arizona’s voucher program, enacted almost 20 years ago.

Competition was supposed to be a game-changer. Advocates said it would cost the state only $4.5 million a year and would lift the performance of minority students.

None of that was true.

The program now costs $140 million a year, and there has been little change in test scores for minorities.

It was a giveaway to the wealthy, who managed to save money on their taxes.

Luzer writes in Washington Monthly:

Over the 20 years the state’s education performance has gotten a little better, but that’s also occurred in pretty much every state in the country. The state has seen no significant improvements, either for students in general or ethnic minorities, as a result of the private school fund.

Another problem is that this fund is a way to avoid taxes. People or businesses can take care of their tax budgets by just dropping some money in the education slush fund. And that deprives the state of money it needs to operate.

In fiscal 2014, the most recent year available, Arizonans claimed $84 million in individual tax credits. Corporations claimed another $39 million.

But that’s a whole lot of money that they’re not paying for other things, funds Arizona needs to operate other programs.

The other, perhaps more serious, result, according to the article, is the state now essentially runs a tax scheme under which people and companies can avoid paying taxes (which pay for public schools) by contributing money into a fund that pays for a few people to pay for private schools.

Only about 3 percent of the money is designated specifically for special-needs students. And 32 percent of the scholarship money given through the individual tax-credit programs goes to children of “low income” families, defined as those earning 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $44,862 for a family of four…. The corporate tax credit for “low income” families has a more-generous definition — a family of four can earn as much as $82,996.

That’s because private school enrollment in the state is actually going down, and public school enrollment is increasing.

And meanwhile almost 70 percent of that fund is used to send the children of reasonably affluent people to “a school of their choice,” even though many of them could just afford the tuition on their own.

Not exactly a data-driven program.

I get excited whenever I see an article in the New York Times that speaks common sense about education. It is a newspaper with national reach. Television producers of news shows always read the Times. I get a sense of hope.

Brittany Bronson, a regular contributor to the Op-Ed page, has an article about the voucher program in Nevada, and she sees how it will work. It won’t help poor kids. It will be used by middle-parents to exit the public schools. It will reduce the diversity in public schools.

Vouchers won’t cure what ails our low-income families. They will only reinforce the assumption that our private schools are successful and public ones are not, that the education system is broken. But it’s not the schools alone that are broken; they are a loose wheel in a system that is malfunctioning on a much grander scale.

In Nevada, about one in four children live in poverty, not because their schools have failed them, but because their parents juggle multiple jobs on a stagnant minimum wage, have little job security and are denied paid time off.

The Anne E. Casey Foundation argues that improving the well-being of children in poverty requires a two-generation approach, meaning you can’t improve the situation for children without addressing the economic realities of their parents. Its 2015 report states that, “Boosting low family income, especially early in a child’s life, can have lasting positive effects on cognitive development, health, and academic achievement.”

These economic challenges present direct conflicts with the type of parental involvement and support that are necessary for quality education. Erratic and unpredictable work hours make it difficult to organize transportation to and from school and after-school child care. Long workdays limit parents’ ability to ensure that children’s academic responsibilities outside of school are being met. Low wages without benefits make it impossible to afford enriching activities outside the classroom or quality health care that plays a crucial role in academic success.

Nevada parents do need choices, but far more than these vouchers can provide.

When he began to run for the Republican nomination for President, Jeb Bush stepped down as chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), which he founded to spread the gospel of high-stakes testing, tough accountability, charters, and vouchers. The new chairperson is Condoleeza Rice, who shares Jeb’s views on corporate reform. FEE will hold its “national summit” in Denver on October 22-23. You might want to plan to attend to learn about the campaign to privatize public education. Be sure to check out the sponsors. I can promise that you will not learn anything about the financial scandals that have plagued the charter industry or the disappointing results of vouchers at this conference.

This is the official reaction of the National Education Association to the new PDK-Gallup poll.  The three key findings that the NEA highlighted are that the American public thinks there is too much testing; 41% of the public think that parents should have the right to opt their children out of standardized testing; and only 31% support vouchers that send public money to pay for private schooling.

WASHINGTON – The 47th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, which was released today, reinforced—yet again—what students and educators nationwide have been saying: there is too much emphasis on standardized testing.

“All students, regardless of their ZIP code, deserve a great public school education. But the high stakes obsession of test and punish has only served to widen the gap between the schools in the wealthiest districts and those in the poorest,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “We must reduce the emphasis on standardized tests that have corrupted the quality of the education children receive. The pressure placed on students and educators is enormous. We wantstandards to succeed and be challenged by teaching critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as creativity.”

NEA has been instrumental in advocating for policies that do just that. As Congress is considering reauthorization of the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act), key aspects of NEA’s Opportunity Dashboard have been a part of the discussion. The Dashboard includes a menu of indicators of school quality and student-centered success, such as access to advanced coursework, school counselors or nurses, and fine arts and regular physical education. Our focus should be on ensuring access to those types of programs because they are much more likely to lead to student success than rote memorization and bubble tests.

Key findings of the 47th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools include:
• 64% say there is “too much emphasis on testing”
• 41% say parents should be able to opt their children out of standardized testing
o 57% of Blacks say parents should not be allowed to excuse their child
o Among Hispanics, that margin is 45%
o But among Whites, 41% said “no” while 44% said “yes”
• While 57% of public school parents give their local schools an “A” or “B” for performance, that drops to 19% when asked to rate public schools nationwide
• 95% of Americans rated “quality of the teachers” as very important for improving local public schools, putting it at the top of a list of five options
• Nearly all adults surveyed (84%) support mandatory vaccinations for students attending public schools
“NEA fully supports parents and supports our affiliates who take a stand against tests that serve no educational purpose,” said García. “But making it easier for parents to opt out is not the end game. The end game is designing a system where parents and educators don’t even consider opting out of assessments because they trust that assessments make sense, guide instruction, and help children advance in learning.”
The poll also showed that many Americans have come to accept school choice and charter schools as part of the education landscape. But that support declines when vouchers are introduced. Only 31% of Americans favor allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at the public’s expense.

“School vouchers divert essential resources from public schools to private and religious schools, while offering no real ‘choice’ for the overwhelming majority of students and their families— and particularly not for the parents of children with special needs, low test scores or behavioral problems,” said García.


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