Some members of the Los Angeles school board are proposing a stealth voucher plan. Unsurprisingly, the United Teachers of Los Angeles opposes the plan.

DeVos-funded consultant pushes internal voucher scheme in LAUSD

This fall UTLA members will be building a vision for how to use the historic infusion of funding to transform education for our students. The privatizers have their own game plan to drive more public dollars to charter operators, and it involves an internal voucher-like scheme connected to Betsy DeVos. Under Trump, Devos’s office funded a grant for an outside consultant to push a competition-based system called Student-Centered Funding in LAUSD.

Basically, funding would move with each student instead of being allocated centrally for staff and programs. It sounds like a good idea when you first hear about it — but in cities like Chicago and Denver, these formulas have led to racially disparate negative consequences, including the loss of libraries and the arts, school closures, and the undermining of school stability, particularly in Black and Brown communities.

The funding scheme was sold in Chicago as a way to achieve greater equity for Black and Brown students, but it’s done the opposite.
Former student Styles Avant-Pinkston lived through a similar scheme — called student-based budgeting in Chicago — that led to under-resourced schools being starved of support and then often shut down. Avant-Pinkston was forced to travel across town to attend a school outside of his neighborhood.

“I shouldn’t have to take a 50-minute bus ride — I should just be able to walk to a good school,” Avant-Pinkston says. “These funding schemes are an attack on kids of color and minority communities. You never hear about schools in wealthy neighborhoods shutting down — they invest in those schools. Schools can be turned around if they see value in doing that — some people just don’t see the value in communities of color. The message is clear: Student-based funding schemes shut down neighborhood schools.”

The LAUSD School Board has yet to vote on the internal voucher scheme, but a decision could come as early as this month. With a highly paid consultant leading the way, the district has fast-tracked the plan, and families and educators have been left out of the discussions and development. Even some Board members have been given little information about this monumental shift in funding.

This internal voucher scheme has destabilized community schools wherever it’s been tried and has not proven to improve student outcomes. If implemented the negative effects would be:

Marketing Over Student Needs: Students would be turned into “backpacks full of cash” and schools forced to compete for market share. With every year a hustle to protect enrollment, school principals would have to prioritize marketing over student needs.

Downward Spiral: Schools that are already struggling with inadequate resources and that serve under-resourced communities would be hit hardest. Every time a student leaves, the school would have even fewer resources to support the students who remain, triggering cuts to staff and essential programs and pushing out other families.

School Closures: Drops in enrollment lead to the closure of neighborhood schools and the destabilization of communities, particularly in Black and Brown neighborhoods. LAUSD has already been targeting small schools like Trinity Elementary in South LA for permanent closure, citing dropping enrollment figures. Closed schools are then handed over to a chapter operator. That trend will accelerate under this internal voucher scheme

Veteran Educators Pushed Aside: The scheme creates incentives to hire lower-salary educators and other staff. That’s what happened in Chicago, where principals are prioritizing hiring less expensive inexperienced teachers over the overwhelmingly Black veteran teaching staff.

Privatization on steroids: LAUSD has told the Department of Education that they plan to allow dollars to follow students to independent charter operators, a further threat to neighborhood schools and the stability of the public school system. The operational funding shift also lays the groundwork for money to eventually follow students to private or religious schools. This is why market reformers from both political parties — from Arne Duncan and Betsy DeVos to ALEC — support the formula: It is an important step down the road to achieving their longtime goal of dismantling our nation’s historic commitment to public education and freeing those dollars for the private sector.