Public Should Mean Something

Authored By: Catherine Brown, vice president, education policy and Meg Benner, senior consultant, at the Center for American Progress.

In the most recent issue of The Line, we asked a handful of education leaders to answer this question: “Is it possible to have strong public schools and choice?” While each of the responses was distinct, we still felt obliged to hear an alternate perspective on choice, particularly one that made a clear case for the value of public schools. Our aim is not simply to present divergent viewpoints but to create opportunity for passionate and evidence-based discussion that can lead to common ground. With that in mind, we invited Catherine Brown, vice president, education policy, and Meg Benner, senior consultant, at the Center for American Progress, to react to the arguments made in The Line.

“The most significant risk of private school vouchers is that they will result in learning loss among the students who participate.”

Similarly, there are private schools operating today that, as a matter of principle, refuse to admit students who are LGBTQ or have parents who are LGBTQ. The nation’s largest voucher program, in Indiana, sent $16 million to these schools last year.v In North Carolina, the same problem has arisen.vi In fact, of the 52 voucher programs in the country, only two have anti-discrimination provisions that protect LGBTQ individuals. While civil rights protections against race, sex, or religion apply, schools that appeal to certain populations by design may not feel like welcoming environments to all students.

Finally, there have been documented cases of voucher recipients committing fraudvii, and voucher program administrators committing fraud.viii One state legislator in Arizona not only helped establish the state’s voucher program but then arranged to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent, fees, and salary to administer it.ix Even short of actual fraud, most states and districts hold participating private schools to embarrassing low standards. Take the McKay Scholarship for students with disabilities in Florida. Does it offer 170 days of instruction and meet basic health and fire safety standards? Check. Florida adds the schools to a list of eligible school options.

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