OUR OPINION: Vouchers don’t serve public education’s work

The Mississippi Legislature has made substantial initial progress toward education enhancement so far in the 2014 session, especially House approval this week of a multiyear $4,250 pay raise for teachers.

The vote on final passage was strongly bipartisan in favor of the bill.

That raise of course must be approved in the Senate, and that is not certain, but there’s a reasonable level of confidence it can be done.

Other education-related legislation alive and in process is not as encouraging.

Three voucher bills have passed out of committee, and all three, by virtue of being vouchers, demand scrutiny and defeat.

The voucher battle is not new in Mississippi.

The three bills headed for further action need to be defeated because tweaking the public purse and favoring private schools is a recipe for damaging controversy and weakening of the public schools.

The proposals would allow diversion of taxpayer dollars to private, virtual, and other nonpublic schools to pay the cost of tuition and activities, but with no accountability to taxpayers, as described by the Parents’ Campaign, a public school advocacy organization.

Mississippi has not fully funded public schools as the Mississippi Adequate Education Program requires, and any process leading to public money for private education should be stopped or not expanded.

HB 831 would expand an existing law, increasing the voucher funding diverted from public to private schools. What is being framed as a technical amendment is really a significant expansion of the students who qualify for the voucher, thus more money for private schools from the public purse. We urge legislators to vote no.

The legislation HB 765 and SB 2325 (broadly called the Individual Education Fund) deal with special education and would provide nonpublic school parents debit-type cards, “pre-loaded with taxpayer funds, that they can use to pay tuition to private schools and for-profit providers with no accountability. The implication is that private school vouchers would be the equivalent of the fully funded MAEP amount – well above the underfunded amount that the rest of our children would receive,” as the Parents’ Campaign describes.

Vouchers drawn on the public purse for private schools are an invitation to weakening of the general commitment to public schools.

The teacher pay raise is the right direction; vouchers are the wrong direction.

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  • tom Neiman

    More money will not improve public education. Public education, if it is to improve, needs competition. That is where vouchers come in. The public schools, will then scrutinize themselves, to see where they have failed the students, and correct themselves accordingly. Other than that, they become a monopoly for failure especially for students from low-income families. These students are then trapped in a failing school system with no way out. With vouchers, there is an alternative.

    • FrereJocques

      Your particular opinion has been around a long time, and the evidence is, IT DOES NOT WORK!! If ALL schools were private schools, the principles of competition would make it work as you say. However, in the real world, ONE of the parties involved is GOVERNMENT. Competition does not affect a Government-operated business the same way it does a private business. Also, the deck is not stacked evenly–Government schools are forced to accept anyone and everyone, including the troublemakers, the disabled, those with learning disabilities–IOW the dregs of the bottom of the barrel of students, meaning those who are the most difficult to teach and the least likely to be top students. Private schools, OTOH, can pick and choose the ones they spend their resources on, and make themselves look good in the process. And they do: They pick the ones who are most likely to WANT to get a good education, are most likely to be top performers, and whose parents are able to afford the price tag. It’s easy to win acclamations for best performance when you’re the Bolshoi Ballet, not so easy when you’re Miss Jennifer’s 5th Grade arts class.

      Our Education system has become so politicized and hackneyed that it is basically broken. By attempting to be fair to everyone, we are fair to NO ONE. America’s schools are now ranked, what, 24th Internationally? What are the BEST educational systems in the world doing that we’re not doing? Perhaps we should pay more attention.

      • TWBDB

        Amen. If you read about the top educational systems in the world, you find the only common thread in those systems is the high degree of value ‘the people themselves’ place on education. Not just the people in the educational system, but the general populous. That value proposition will continue to fall in MS as long as we continue to demonize educators, the educational system, and the very products of higher education: scientists, legal professionals, etc. Much of this is cultural and we know it.

    • TWBDB

      Tom, your ‘competition’ metric might work in the case of ‘for profit’ schools, however, I simply cannot buy into the idea that our overall educational system should be placed into a competitive market. Why? MS doesn’t have the population density or sufficient per capita income to sustain a market driven educational system. In fact, no matter these metrics, a market driven system by definition has ‘winners and losers’. We all know full well what this means in an already polarized demographic. MS should be striving to lead the nation in improving / overhauling their public education system, including the programs for special needs children as described above. To me, the ‘voucher system’ appears to be an abandonment of purpose rather than a step to aide all MS students.

  • Heather Cullom Fox

    I have long
    wondered why it is that schools complain there is no money. Education is underfunded. Teachers do not get paid enough, and they are
    overwhelmed with such a broad spectrum of children in their classes that it is
    difficult to meet the needs of each and every one of them. YET, when the discussion comes up about
    vouchers for children with special needs or in certain other circumstances,
    people start ranting and raving about children trying to “escape” the public school
    system. You hear them say it is simply a
    way to destroy the public educational system.

    This is my
    question to the critics. If the schools
    are meeting the needs of the children, what is there to “escape” from and how
    is it destroying the public educational system?
    If the public school system is intended to serve “the public” for our
    children’s educational needs and not all needs are being met, then what do they
    suggest a person to do? The public
    school system is not to be served, it is to serve the people. If it is not able to do that, the people have
    to correct that by whatever means they choose to. The children do not have years to wait on the
    government to get their ducks in a row.
    The government wants our money and tax dollars for the schools, but when
    the schools can’t do the job we need them to, we are told we should have to

    In today’s world,
    you have children with all sorts of medical needs, allergies, learning
    disabilities, differing socio economic backgrounds, differing family dynamics, at
    different developmental stages, with varying knowledge and skills, some non-English
    speaking, and many other issues that play a huge role in the dynamic of the
    classroom and in determining the success or failures of the kids in the classroom. While teachers admit that it is impossible to
    accomplish all that is expected of them (and NO ONE disagrees with that), why
    not take some of the variables away from them and allow the kids to reach their
    full potential? Allow the teacher to
    help those they can and let the others find somewhere that is designed to help
    children with their needs, whatever those needs may be. What happened to advocating for the kids and
    putting their needs first and above all else?!
    If schools are successful in meeting the needs of the children they
    serve, then how will this destroy the public educational system because some
    will choose another option?

    If a person was
    to be diagnosed with cancer, who would they go to for treatment? I can assure you the last person they would
    go to would be a general practitioner.
    They would not see a Rheumatologist or a Chiropractor, but what if the government
    told them they did not have a choice in the matter. Their medical plan dictates they have to use
    the “public medical system” and that system will use a general practitioner for
    their treatment, surgeries and any additional treatments needed. People would be up in arms about it. They would be as angry about that as they are
    about ObamaCare or the politicians and public forcing a child to stay in a
    system that cannot or will not meet their needs.

    When these
    children grow up and do not succeed in life, who pays the price for that? Educators will blame parents or a lack of
    funding. The government will blame the
    schools or the standards. Parents will
    blame all of the above. No one will take
    responsibility for what was simply the system’s inability to meet the needs of the child, and their
    unwillingness to make sure they had a choice in finding an institution or
    organization that could.

    God bless those
    that do not have a child that needs anything extra or that is in perfect
    physical and mental condition, but that is becoming less the norm as time
    marches on. I will tell you though, as a
    parent of 2 children with special needs, you will never understand until you
    walk a day in our shoes. You cannot
    possibly know what it is like to have your child wake up at 2 am and be
    bouncing off the walls until the next night at 9pm when they finally fall
    asleep. You cannot understand how it
    feels when your child goes to school and then pees in their pants because they
    are anxious from the noise in the cafeteria, in PE or at recess. Their OCD prevents them from feeling
    comfortable about raising their hand to go to the bathroom out of fear the
    teacher will be mad they asked. Your child
    is running to the nurse at least 3 times a week. For some kids, they cannot sit still even with
    medicine because medicine affects all kids differently and does not always stay
    in their systems the time that it does for others. They come home every day with bad behavior
    reports, making their self-esteem decline.
    For some children with ADHD, their handwriting is so poor that no matter
    how hard they try, it does not make it better nor does it make it less
    frustrating to them or their teacher.
    What happens when a child has certain auditory issues that are so bad,
    they melt down at certain sounds.
    Imagine that child hearing a school bell ring or a fire alarm going off,
    how do you think the teacher can handle that for the child with 25 other kids
    in the class? I could go on and on. Most people do not care. SPED kids are lawsuits waiting to happen and
    more work than district leaders want to have to put in.

    Why not then give
    parents a choice? If our kids are a
    problem, let us go where they are not. Give parents and their children a choice, not
    because teachers are failing, not because schools are failing but because they
    need specialized plans for their needs designed by people and organizations
    that specialize in those fields. They
    simply need more than what can be given in the public schools. Why is this such a difficult thing to grasp?!