In this seventh installment of my Church/State Separation Myth series I want to return to School Vouchers and address some of the myths surrounding the programs.
But first some Good News – On Wednesday, Dec. 15, the House voted NO to PA’s voucher scheme pushing any chance of another voucher vote until after next year’s legislative election.
This is excellent news which DVAU can claim partial responsibility! Our efforts paid off – DVAU attended an anti-voucher protest in Washington, we presented talks, wrote letters to the media and state representatives, and we sponsored and took part in debates.
But we still have NJ. DVAU Vice President Janice Rael reports that we can expect a new voucher bill to be introduced in the new session in January.
Briefly, NJ’s voucher bill pending in the legislature would create legislation allowing low-income families to take state tax dollars and apply those dollars to the public or nonpublic school of their choice. The amount of money available to voucher recipients is typically not enough to cover tuition at more exclusive private schools leaving Catholic and other religious schools as the only option. In fact, in other cities with voucher programs 80 – 85 % of the voucher recipients end up sending their children to a Catholic school. Religious schools are free to discriminate against both students and employees based on race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
Myth 1: Vouchers will move students out of poor inner-city schools: The PA Senate projected that only 8% of the students targeted by the voucher bill will be eligible for vouchers. However, 65% of them are already attending private schools meaning that most of the money will not help students from the poorer inner-city schools. Similarly in NJ – many students will be left behind.
Myth 2: Vouchers will give parents “choice”: The problem with this claim is that no student is guaranteed admission to any private school. Their applications can be rejected for almost any reason. NJ’s voucher program enables private schools, not parents, to maintain their “choice.” Private schools can discriminate against students based on religious affiliation, ability or special learning needs, academic performance and ability to pay.
Myth 3: Student’s rights will be maintained: Private schools are not legally bound to provide services to students with disabilities which by the way are the most expensive students to educate. Public schools accept and provide for the education of all children and have a duty to protect them from discrimination. Voucher bills do not require private schools to accept children with disabilities and it does not provide the extra funding needed to meet their special needs.
Myth 4: Vouchers will save taxpayer money: Not true! Here’s what will happen in NJ. Corporations making donations for the scholarships would get tax credits worth 100 % of the value of their donations, costing the state millions in tax revenue. According to the state’s nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services up to nearly $1.2 billion in state aid would be initially withheld from school districts over the course of the program. Of that amount, about $354 million would be returned to the districts. But the remaining roughly $840 million would be retained by the state to offset the loss of corporate business taxes. So, the scholarships would not be directly funded by public school dollars, but education aid would be withheld to cover the tax credits granted to donors providing the scholarships. Most students will remain in NJ public schools but will receive fewer resources as state funds are diverted to the few.
Myth 6: Vouchers improve student achievement: This is probably the easiest of the voucher myths to debunk since good, non-partisan, academic research has shown that vouchers are not effective at improving student results. Research on voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington, DC indicates that these programs produce few if any statistically significant positive effects on student achievement.
Myth 7: School vouchers are constitutional: First, most schools accepting vouchers are religious and the NJ Constitution strictly forbids using taxpayer money to support religious institutions. Second, the Constitution requires NJ to run a thorough and efficient public education system. We have a duty to fulfill our constitutional obligations, not subsidize private schools. Giving government aid to religious schools diminishes the financing available to public schools and impermissibly favors religion.
So what to do? Write, call, or email your NJ state representative and let them know what you think. The NJ voucher bill is not just bad for education it’s unconstitutional as well.