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National School Choice Week: Truth about School Vouchers

Sep 27, 2017, 10:51 AM

National School Choice Week is celebrated Jan. 24-30. We would like to present facts about school vouchers that are often misrepresented.

National PTA has a long-standing position against school vouchers and is an active member in the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE), which advocates for support of public education and against any attempts to divert federal funding to private schools.

While the term “school choice” encompasses many types of choice—including public charter and magnet schools—voucher proponents use this week as an opportunity to push for private school vouchers across the nation. But unlike public choice options, private school vouchers don’t offer meaningful choices to students or parents.

These voucher programs:

  • Take taxpayer dollars away from public schools
  • Fund private schools that are either too expensive for students to afford that lack resources and fewer opportunities than in public schools

Voucher programs funnel taxpayer money toward schools that are not obligated to follow the same standards as public schools. The D.C. voucher program, which some members of Congress are trying to reauthorize now, is a good example of this.

Since its adoption in 2004, the program has received almost $200 million for students to use to attend private schools. Yet, these private schools are not subject to the same standards of accountability, nondiscrimination or civil rights requirements that public schools must meet, including those in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, Title IV of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For all of those federal dollars spent, the D.C. voucher program does not produce a good return on investment. Studies of the D.C. voucher program conducted by the U.S. Department of Education have shown that vouchers do not improve educational achievement or opportunities for students in the program.

In fact, the department found that use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in reading or math, and that students in the program were significantly less likely to attend a school with an ESL program, learning support and special needs program, tutors, counselors, cafeteria, or nurse’s office.

Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a bill to reauthorize the D.C. voucher program, which will expire this year. While the Senate did not act on the bill in 2015, we expect to see supporters of the program continue to push for its reauthorization.

Congress may move to reauthorize the program in 2016 despite continuing opposition from the individuals who represent D.C., including Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and a majority of the D.C. City Council.

Looking ahead, we will continue to see vouchers pushed not just in Congress, but in the states. Last year, seven states passed voucher bills that either created or expanded existing programs.

School Choice Week is a great opportunity to draw attention to the reasons why private school vouchers are not in the best interest of students and families. Take the time to let your legislators know that you do not support private school vouchers and that they should oppose any attempt to create or expand private school voucher programs.


Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA.