The Problem with Private School Vouchers: Harmful programs that redirect funds from public schools to private institutions are spreading rapidly across the country.

AuthorLevin, Jessica

This year was supposed to be better for the nation's schools. Hope sprung from the receding threat of COVID-19 and a new administration committed to public education. But the legacy of the Donald Trump presidency and continuing pandemic-related disruptions for students have led to the enactment of numerous state laws establishing or expanding private school voucher programs.

Republican state legislators, exploiting the crisis to invigorate their school privatization agenda, are using school closures to push for vouchers. The decades-long underfunding of public schools by these same legislators meant the resources needed to ensure student and staff safety in the pandemic weren't there. And many state capitol buildings were closed to the public earlier this year, preventing the demonstrations and testimony that often put pressure on state legislators to vote against school voucher bills.

This was a perfect storm for privatizers, and resulted in the introduction of voucher bills in dozens of states. Many failed but too many passed, and the effort to undermine education as a public good and a key pillar of our democracy got a significant shot in the arm. The effects of this will be felt for years to come.

Private school vouchers, in a nutshell, redirect public money to private institutions. They undermine the fundamental promise of a high-quality, equitable education for all students, as private schools often discriminate based on factors like religion, fluency in English, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Vouchers also drain resources from public schools, which are not only required to serve all students, but are also vital community hubs and local units of democratic government.

There are several kinds of private school vouchers:

  1. Traditional vouchers pay for a students private school tuition with direct payments from the public treasury. Legislatures typically don't enact traditional "voucher" programs because voters don't like them.

  2. Education Savings Accounts, or "ESA" voucher programs, direct public funds (generally a percentage of the per-pupil amount provided by the state to public schools) into a personal account. These funds can be used to pay for a students private school tuition, as well as a broad range of other private education expenses, including tutoring, online coursework, transportation, or even homeschooling.

  3. Tax credit scholarship programs, also known as "neovouchers," provide individuals or...

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