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Do School Vouchers Work?

 

Politico reports, “ever since the Obama administration filed suit to freeze Louisiana’s school voucher program, high-ranking Republicans have pummeled the president for trapping poor kids in failing public schools. Majority Leader Eric Cantor blistered the president for denying poor kids “a way into a brighter future.” And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal accused the president of “ripping low-income minority students out of good schools” that could “help them achieve their dreams.”

Taxpayers across the U.S. will soon be spending $1 billion a year to help families pay private school tuition — and there’s little evidence that the investment yields academic gains. In Milwaukee, just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools. In Cleveland, voucher students in most grades performed worse than their peers in public schools in math, though they did better in reading. (Emphasis added).

In New Orleans, voucher students who struggle academically haven’t advanced to grade-level work any faster over the past two years than students in the public schools. And across Louisiana, many of the most popular private schools for voucher students posted miserable scores in math, reading, science and social studies this spring, with fewer than half their voucher students achieving even basic proficiency and fewer than 2 percent demonstrating mastery. Seven schools did so badly, state Superintendent John White barred them from accepting new voucher students — though the state agreed to keep paying tuition for the more than 200 voucher students already enrolled, if they chose to stay.

Nationwide, many schools participating in voucher programs infuse religion through their curriculum.

Vouchers are booming in popularity; a record 245,000 students in 16 states plus D.C. are paying for private school with public subsidies, according to the Alliance for School Choice. By 2014, states will be spending $1 billion a year to send children to private schools through vouchers, tax credits and similar programs. The expansions are stretching voucher programs far beyond the stated intent of rescuing poor families from failing public schools. For one thing, participants don’t always have to be poor. In Milwaukee, a family of four with an annual income as high as $71,000 can get a voucher. In Louisiana, a family of four earning nearly $59,000 a year is eligible. The federal poverty guideline for a family of four is $23,550.

Also, voucher recipients aren’t always trapped in failing public schools; in fact, some have never even tried the public system. Fully two-thirds of students in Wisconsin’s Parental Choice Program were already enrolled in private schools before they received the tuition subsidy — and another 5 percent were home schooled, state data show.

As for academic gains, voucher backers often point to two studies, in Washington, D.C. and New York City, for hopeful signs. The research in D.C. found that giving vouchers to low-income students didn’t raise their test scores. But it did boost their high school graduation rate, according to their parents. In New York, meanwhile, African-American students who received vouchers were more likely than their peers to enroll in college, but the effect didn’t hold true for other groups, including Hispanic students.

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