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GUEST COLUMN

Some reasons why school vouchers are a bad idea for public education

Friday, March 18, 2011 - 10:54 am

The large majority of private schools are run by religious groups.

The U.S. Department of Education says 76 percent of private schools have a religious affiliation, and more than 80 percent of students attending private schools attend religious institutional schools.

Religious schools indoctrinate as well as educate. Students receive religious instruction and attend religious services. Religious schools are important to the public system, but:

• Vouchers force Americans to pay taxes to support religion. In America, all religious activities should be supported with voluntary contributions. Madison, Jefferson and other founders opposed taxation to support religion.

• Vouchers take money from the public schools to support unaccountable private schools. Private schools can deny admission to any student based on, for example, religion, disability, language proficiency or disciplinary record.

• Vouchers do not improve academic performance. Studies of voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., reveal that reading and math scores are no better than those of students in corresponding public schools. There was no significant difference in student-teacher ratios or teacher availability for extracurricular activities.

• Saying that vouchers help the poor is suspect. Voucher payments are rarely enough to cover the entire cost of the private school, and only families with money can come up with the cost of tuition balance, uniforms, books and other supplies.

In Cleveland, most families who received a voucher did not use it because they could not handle the additional costs. The real story is that vouchers actually hurt low-income families by weakening public schools.

If Fort Wayne Community Schools lost only two students per school to the voucher program, they would lose income of about $600,000 annually, and there is no way they could make it up. The buildings still need maintenance. Losing two students does not save a teacher.

The only result is eroding a program by making success more difficult to achieve.

• It is the private school that chooses and will determine whether a student will be admitted.

Contrary to the claim, it is not parents who have the “choice.” Real choice is already offered by FWCS and many other school districts.

• Vouchers can result in speculator profiteers. One school in Milwaukee was run by a man with a long criminal record. In Cleveland, one school was set up in a dilapidated building with inadequate heat and no fire alarms. Another “educated” the children by having them watch videos all day.

• Most public schools do a good job; those that don't should be fixed, not handicapped by further weakening. Politicians pushing vouchers (and charters) offer this as a panacea while ignoring real issues like adequate funding, class size and teacher training.

Our legislators have different agendas. Some are genuinely concerned and want to benefit our children.

I submit that they are not fully aware of the consequences of the governor's drive to privatize public schools.

Leonard Goldstein is a resident of Fort Wayne.