We worry more about the widespread scandals in charter schools these days when we talk about privatization of public education, but voucher programs, begun in a big way in Milwaukee 25 years ago, have been steadily increasing in number across the states. In a short, informational video, the Southern Education Foundation explains how private school vouchers and closely related tuition tax credits are robbing public schools across the states of the funds public schools need to serve all children.
I urge you to watch the video and send it to others. Watching it takes only a couple of minutes.
The graphic presentation shows where vouchers and tuition tax credits are popping up in state legislatures, summarizes the ways vouchers rob needed public funds, and defines lesser-known tuition tax credits as vouchers in disguise.
The Southern Education Foundation’s video emphasizes the growth of vouchers and tuition tax credits across the South, but they are popping up all across the United States. TheNY Times reports that Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo included tuition tax credits in his state budget proposal, although the idea appears to have been dropped (for now) because Cuomo was unable to garner adequate support. In Pennsylvania, Bobby Kerik, reports for thePittsburgh Tribune-Review that there is currently bi-partisan support in both houses of the legislature for expanding two already-existing tax credit programs. The first gives businesses “a tax credit—a reduction in actual taxes paid—if they designate money to any of 1,270 approved organizations with an educational component.” The second, the Pennsylvania Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, gives tax breaks to businesses for contributing money for “tuition assistance to students residing within the boundaries of a low-achieving school who wish to attend another school.” The bill currently being discussed in the Pennsylvania legislature would expand “the combined budget for the two programs from $150 million in tax credits annually to $250 million annually.”
Vouchers and tuition tax credits fund private and parochial schools while undermining the public system, which is more likely to distribute opportunity for all children, not just for some. Although it is often assumed that private schools are accountable to the market, vouchers and tax credits support schools that may be neither transparent nor accountable. In a public system it is possible to pass laws to protect the needs of all groups of children including students learning English and children with disabilities and to protect children’s rights.
The political philosopher Benjamin Barber explains the difference theoretically: “Privatization is a kind of reverse social contract: it dissolves the bonds that tie us together into free communities and democratic republics. It puts us back in the state of nature where we possess a natural right to get whatever we can on our own, but at the same time lose any real ability to secure that to which we have a right. Private choices rest on individual power…. Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities and presume equal rights for all. Public liberty is what the power of common endeavor establishes, and hence presupposes that we have constituted ourselves as public citizens by opting into the social contract.” (Consumed, pp. 143-144)