School Choice: Myth vs Truth

MYTH #1: Vouchers give parents the freedom to choose.
TRUTH: It’s the private schools that do the choosing, not parents. Private voucher schools choose the students they want and routinely deny admission to voucher recipients.
MYTH #2: Vouchers help low income students.
TRUTH: Voucher schools charge tuition in excess of what the voucher pays, do not provide transportation, do not provide free or reduced-price meals, and do not guarantee the quality of education provided. In most voucher states, the bulk of private school vouchers are used by higher income students from wealthier school districts and students already enrolled in private schools, having never attended public schools. The reality of private school vouchers for low income children is no choice at all.
MYTH #3: Competition from school choice makes public schools better.
TRUTH: A “study” conducted by school choice proponents claiming vouchers caused improvements in public schools was debunked in peer review. When their study showed public schools outperformed private voucher schools, school choice “researchers” claimed that the vouchers caused the public schools’ success. Real researchers said, uh, no.
MYTH #4: Voucher schools are accountable to those who matter (parents).
TRUTH: Since vouchers are funded with taxpayer dollars, all taxpayers deserve to know the quality of education being provided for their investment. While public school achievement is made public annually, private voucher schools operate in secret and are an inappropriate use of public funds.
MYTH #5: Vouchers are another tool in the toolbox to provide good choices and improve education.
TRUTH: An abundance of research shows that public schools outperform private voucher schools. Voucher schools often are bad choices that provide a lower quality education. Vouchers bleed funds from already under-funded public schools and diminish education opportunities for the overwhelming majority of students – who are educated in public schools and achieve better outcomes than voucher students.
MYTH #6: Students are admitted to private voucher schools by lottery.
TRUTH: While vouchers themselves are assigned through a lottery system, private school admission is not. The voucher does not come with a guarantee of admission to a private voucher school. Voucher schools are allowed to pick and choose which students they want to admit. They are not required to admit voucher recipients and, in fact, routinely deny admission to students they don’t see as “a good fit.”
MYTH #7: Private schools have better academic outcomes.
TRUTH: Decades of comparative studies show that public schools consistently outperform private voucher schools. See research highlights and link to sources here. And read about public schools’ advantage over private schools here.
MYTH #8: Vouchers give parents a choice when public schools can’t meet their children’s needs.
TRUTH: In many cases, vouchers subsidize private school tuition for families whose children have always been in private schools. In Indiana, the majority of students accepting and using taxpayer-funded vouchers never attended public schools. In Wisconsin’s statewide voucher expansion, 68 percent of voucher recipients had been enrolled in private schools prior to accepting a voucher. Georgia’s tax credit scholarships (vouchers) were claimed largely by middle to high income students already enrolled in private schools. These students are quite the opposite of the profile that privatizers put forth to sell the idea of vouchers – that of low income students whose parents claim were under-served in public school. A third-party review of Georgia’s voucher program found: “… the law has been carried out, in large part, as a means to publicly finance the attendance of relatively well-to-do students, many of whom are already in private schools. Instead of saving tax funds, each of the private school scholarships financed by Georgia’s tax credits has cost the state government more than twice what it would spend to send a child to public schools.”
MYTH #9: Vouchers create a “competitive marketplace” for education.
TRUTH: The game is rigged when it comes to school choice. True competition is based on a level playing field; there is nothing level or fair about “competition” when the competitors play by different rules. The state determines the finish line (standards) for public schools while private schools set their finish line anywhere they choose, with no standards required. Private schools get to pick their teams while public schools take every kid who shows up, no tryouts, no one cut from the team. And while public schools are rightly required by law to spend their resources on critical services such as transportation and special education, private schools spend their resources however they like.
MYTH #10: Students don’t have choices within public schools.
TRUTH: Public schools far outpace private schools in the choices they offer students. Per a report from the Center for Public Education (CPE), most U.S. public school districts offer a wide range of choices to students, including academic concentrations in arts or STEM, career academies, Advanced Placement and dual credit courses, International Baccalaureate programs, and more. According to CPE, even rural and high-poverty public high schools offer more program choices than private schools.  Providing quality options within public schools is a worthwhile investment of taxpayer dollars. What is a wasteful use of taxpayer dollars? Vouchers to unaccountable private schools that accept only a chosen few and hide their outcomes from public view.
MYTH #11: Education shouldn’t be about funding “systems,” it should fund individual students.
TRUTH: Funding free public schools – schools that are open to all students and accountable to the public – is precisely what our state constitution requires. Our constitution specifically prohibits the appropriation of funds to schools that charge tuition. The role of government is to serve the public good by providing a public school system and structure within which teachers work. The majority of the funds dedicated to the public school system are used to pay teachers who spend their days focusing on the needs of individual students. Focusing on the needs of individual students is the job of educators. Funding the systems that exist for the public good is the job of the Legislature. Government funding of individuals for the benefit of individuals, and to the detriment of the common good, is cronyism, and it is a dangerous and inappropriate use of public funds.

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