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Guest Opinion | Jennifer Hall Lee: Education Vouchers Hurt Public Schools

Published on Monday, May 3, 2021 | 10:49 am
Jennifer Hall Lee

What is an Educational voucher? 

Tamerlin Godley, a founder of Public Funds, Public Schools defined vouchers as “Any mechanism that takes money out of the public schools for the benefit of private schools.” 

Educational vouchers or Educational Savings Accounts as they are sometimes called helps to pay private school tuition for a student who has been unenrolled from a public school.

Recently the governor of West Virginia signed into law educational voucher bill HB2013, which is being called the most far-reaching educational voucher bill in the nation. It covers tuition in private schools including religious schools, homeschooling, and expenses associated with tutoring. The amounts of the vouchers are $4600 per year.

The Republican legislators who passed HB2013 (the bill did not get one Democratic vote) are satisfied, but for those who believe in the necessity of free public education for all and the value of separation of church and state, the passage of HB2013 is alarming.

Stacy Strawderman, former vice president of the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia and former president of the Marion County AFT said, “the private schools around here are Catholic schools and mostly Christian schools.” She added, “I shouldn’t have to pay for your child to go to private school.”

Staff representative for the AFT of West Virginia Frank Caputo said “It’s been an all-out assault on public education. He added that it will “decimate public schools as we know it.”

Public Schools or segregation

Public education is a uniquely American creation. Invented before the abolition of slavery in the early 19th century it was created to educate children for free; rich and poor together. Segregated schools for African American children were created after the Civil War, yet it wasn’t until 1954 with the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, that racial integration was legally mandated for public schools.

The Brown decision was controversial. Many people in the state of Virginia were so incensed by being forced to integrate schools they did everything they could to forestall integration. Tactics included the closing of public schools and the creation of state educational vouchers that enabled white families to enroll their children in private non-religious schools that could discriminate based on race. During this time African-American children were either educated in makeshift schools or they simply didn’t get an education.

This is the first known use of educational vouchers – segregation.

Now, as vouchers are being introduced in numerous states it is important to read an amicus brief filed in Tennessee this month in support of overturning their most recent educational voucher bill. It cites segregation as one reason: “although proponents of voucher programs no longer espouse a segregationist intent, vouchers continue to have significant segregative effects.”

Godley said, “there is absolutely no peer-reviewed research that shows that vouchers have any positive effect either on the students that use them or on the students that are in the public schools.”

Public schools, by design, take all students. Private schools pick and choose their students.

According to Ms. Godley “the one thing that is shown that vouchers do is that they further segregate schools…which is very bad for students across the board.”

Public Funds in Private hands

Public Education, in my opinion, is not a business, it’s a democratic institution, with elected school boards.

Christine Campbell, a middle school teacher in Pocahontas County West Virginia and former president of AFT-WV said “The interesting thing is that [HB2013] creates an entire board,” and an “entire revenue stream. It’s kind of set up like a foundation.”

In terms of the funds for HB2013 Reverend James Saunders, a Marion County school board member of 33 years said “There is no accountability on how the money is being spent.”

Frank Caputo said, It’s all about the money… there are billions and billions of education dollars and they basically want to get their hands on it.”

The voucher bills don’t surprise me after all we are seeing the introduction of bills that aim to curtail voting rights and we just witnessed an insurrection on our Capitol not by an outside enemy, but by Americans themselves.

Public schools were created in part to bring us all together no matter how different we are. Through learning from one another, we create a shared vision for our nation. But when core values are fractured the pieces become stand-alone silos where we speak to one another in echo chambers.

On HB2013 Frank Caputo said, “It’s going to be a dagger in the heart of public education in West Virginia.”

Jennifer hall Lee is a Pasadena Unified School District School Board member. She lives in Altadena.

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