The U.S. Senate voted yesterday to effectively begin the end of the federally funded D.C. school voucher program.  Ed Secretary Duncan has publicly disagreed with the timetable for withdrawal but that apparently had little effect as the vote wasn’t even close (58-39), although there were a few interesting votes here and there.  It’s part of a pattern, the Hill doesn’t really seem to much care what the administration thinks about the omnibus spending bill and the administration is basically saying that it’ll be their process next year so just wait.   So far the Hill seems to have the stronger hand.  In terms of the voucher program specifically, in better economic times you’d expect some private money to come in and at least allow students to stay at their current schools until they age out, if not continue the program because it’s a touchstone in the school voucher community.  But these are not normal times.  Whatever one thinks of school vouchers, the spectacle of forcing the kids to leave their schools before they age out is pretty cold-hearted.  But when elephants fight…as they say…Going forward there will be some theater before this is all over and perhaps some compromise on currently enrolled students in a future bill (though the specific language in the legislation makes that challenging) so how this played out was a pretty clear signal.

The voucher funding was part of a “three sector” solution  involving funds for the city’s public schools, public charter schools, and the voucher program.   Keep an eye on that.

13 Replies to “Vouchin’”

  1. I feel like school reformers are constantly talking about the virtues of shutting down schools that are deemed to be failing. Whatever one things of that process, it seems pretty cold-hearted to force *those* kids to leave their schools before they age out.

  2. I have conflicting feelings about vouchers. On one hand, it is heartwarming to hear about the selected children who are able to escape from inner city schools and attend a safe, academically challenging environment.

    However, as a tool for widespread reform, vouchers make no sense. In essense, they remove a few motivated children from their neighborhood schools, but do nothing for the vast majority of students. And how can they? By sheer logistics, it would be impossible for an entire school district’s student population to be absorbed into local private schools. Even if dozens of new private schools opened, I believe the private schools would be reluctant to take children with certain special needs or behavioral issues. If they were forced to accept all students, including those with severe behavioral problems, special needs and even criminal records, the resulting private schools would be essentially composed of the same students that challenge the DC public schools now. Vouchers therefore cannot be a feasible solution to any urban district’s overall education challenges.

  3. The three-sector solution — a major buzzword around DC — isn’t a solution at all. It’s the fig leaf that enabled vouchers to become palatable in a very partisan city. But as public policy, it’s contradictory. Let’s have competition, but give money to the sectors (DCPS and charter) that families are fleeing from? It’s a win-win-win that means a loss of pressure to force change.

  4. Attorney DC-

    The largest voucher program in the nation is the McKay Scholarship program in Florida, which is for children with disabilities. Almost 20,000 special needs students are attending 846 private schools. If the funding follows the child, private schools will accept special needs children:


    As to your point about not everyone can go to private school, I don’t believe anyone has ever claimed that they would, or that they need to do so. Like any other education reform, this isn’t an all or nothing proposition.

  5. “Three-sector solution” = traditional public + innovative public (charter) + unregulated constitution-violating unaccountable mostly religious private schools.

    How about some new framing: PUBLIC schools with accountability and dollars and PRIVATE schools that people pay for themselves without taxpayer money or regulation. That TWO-SECTOR formulation is more accurate and works just fine, thank you very much.

  6. Matthew: It’s good to hear about the Florida program you mentioned. As a former teacher (who taught special education students for a time), I am always interested in these issues. With regard to your second point, my rejoinder would be: So where is the limit? Who decides which kids deserve these funds and which don’t? Assuming we agree that there is a finite limit to any city’s voucher capacity, how can we morally say that X number of kids will get them and other students will be denied? It’s a tricky question.

  7. Attorney DC:
    Good point, but my take on this is that it is not so tricky to answer.

    Vouchers could be offeed based on income- students in families below or just above the poverty line could receive the choice of full-tution vouchers (both students with and without special ed needs). Maybe a sliding scale of tution coverage could be given to those who are a bit above the poverty line, but far from middle class.

    While not a cure-all, limited vouchers would expand the choice to those economically-poor families who lack the means to consider other education options that middle and upper class familier already have. (And, more often than not, these students are also in some of the lowest-performing schools.)

  8. Sorry, tuition is spelled wrong in above. In too much of a hurry since I am doing this while still at work!

  9. Matt — why not give poor people money and they can spend it on private schools or they can spend it on anything else. I think we used to call that welfare.

    Attorney DC is on the right track here. If you keep following the logic you end up with public school choice and charters, which is the status quo in DC (minus the Congressionally imposed voucher program).

  10. paul is absolutely right. why can’t education reformers see their own hypocrisy? closing down schools where only 30% of students score proficient in math or reading is not virtuous! keep those schools open! the students deserve them! and certainly, don’t try to shake things up internally with administrators or teachers at these schools… it’s not their fault! how can they be expected to run a school when their students come from such troubled backgrounds? or when they don’t have enough money and resources either? thank you, paul for helping point out just how cold and hard-hearted reformers are. I’m glad someone is here reminding them to think about the children.

    on another note, wasn’t it democratic lawmakers who also raised the spectre of tuskegee a few years ago when a proposed upward bound evaluation excluded some students from participating in the program? isn’t this an analogous situation? oh the hypocrisy indeed.

  11. Response to EG:

    Because vouchers would not cost more than public schooling, your welfare analogy does not hold water.

    In fact, most private school tuitions would cost the government less than educating in the public schools. (Imagine if welfare actually saved the government money!)

    I do not suggest we make poor families dependent on the government for their needs. But educationally, why wouldn’t we attempt to open up all possible avenues to a good education (at a cost savings) especially for poor families should be explored.

    Look, it is well known that public education is not “created equal” in poor communities vs. in wealthy suburbs. If this ideal was realized, I wouldn’t be a proponent of vouchers. But given the reality that public education is not high quality in many poor communities, I think it is time to get past ideology and find pragmatic solutions to the unmet educational needs of many. (Yes, not all, but a start.)

    Also, referring to one of your previous posts, I’d be interested in hearing more about what you find so offensive about a voucher that allows a parent to choose to educate their child at a quality religious-based school. I guess my take is as long as the government can assess that 1) the school provides students with a quality education 2) the school provides a civic-minded education, than that school is fit to receive government funds for educating American students.

  12. AttorneyDC,
    Don’t be so happy to hear about Florida’s voucher program Google, Figlio, Florida vouchers, and Northwestern University to see why that happiness would be misplaced.

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