School vouchers are not a reliable option

Public education continues to be challenged by charter schools, budgetary constraints, salary and retention of teachers, resegregation of public schools, changing demographics of schools, public funding, poverty of students and public will for education.

Many people in this country would agree that educating children is one of the most important functions of an effective government. In America, primary and secondary schools are mandated to provide a public education to all children without charge and paid for in part by taxpayers. A common belief among supporters of education is that education is important to the growth and development of citizens, and is the core principle in support of our republic and democracy. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools purport that “all children should have the opportunity to achieve at a high level, and charter schools are meeting that need: charter schools are closing the achievement gap. They are raising the bar of what’s possible- and what should be expected – in public education; and a higher percentage of charter students are accepted into a college or university.”

If this is true, we should dismantle every public school and send all students to charter schools.

Unfortunately, this is not the case, as many charter schools are not meeting this lofty projection and additionally are not available for many students, as charter schools tend to be very selective. Moreover, charter schools don’t have the same oversight as public schools. School boards, administrators and teachers are charged with the responsibility for ensuring every child has access to a high-quality education.

Parents expect accountability from educational oversight professionals to evaluate the success of public schools. There are successful charter schools, but there are many that are not successful and are not held to the same standards of public schools.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos supports school choice and believes this is a much better alternative for public schools, an alternative that allows parents to decide where their children will go to school, utilizing public funding.

Secretary DeVos said, “We all live with the fact that the current structure of education is outdated and ultimately is not geared toward what is right and best for students. I suggest we focus less on what word comes before ‘school’—whether it be traditional, charter, virtual, magnet, home, parochial, private or any approach yet to be developed – and focus instead on the individuals they are intended to serve. The problem is not how much we’re spending; the problem is the results we’re getting. Charters alone are not sufficient. Private schools alone are not sufficient. Neither are traditional schools.”

Secretary DeVos’s argument sounds reasonable. However, a deeper analysis should be undertaken to assess what is not working in underperforming public schools and fix it, rather than taking public dollars and allocating them to an ill-advised voucher system. We agree with Secretary DeVos that what is important is focusing on individual student performance to achieve the results needed for America to compete in a global economy driven by science, reading and math.

The concept advocated by DeVos is based on educational choices. Unfortunately, choice alone is pointless when quality is absent from those choices.

A key question to ask is: Will the proposed “voucher system” have sufficient dollars for to pay for school choice and be equal to or greater than a taxpayer funded public education? There is no easy answer to public education. Charter schools are not the answer.

The secondary question: How effective are charter schools? The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University Institute linked overall improvement of the charter school sector to charter school closures, suggesting that while charter schools as a whole are not getting better, the closure of bad schools is improving the public system as a whole.

This fragmented system of education is not what is needed to improve student performance. With a greater focus on improving our communities, we also improve education. In other words, public schools are a reflection of the communities they serve and deserve full public funding, not school vouchers that have not proven to be a reliable equalizer for an equitable public education.

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