Well, happy School Choice Week. What better way to celebrate than getting a bunch of states to ram through bills to gut (or in some cases further gut) public education.
The preferred method seems to be ESA-style vouchers (ESA used to stand for "education savings account," but sometimes "education scholarship account"). In an ESA/Tax Credit Scholarship program, rich benefactors give money to a "scholarship" organization, which in turn hands the money over to criterion-meeting parents who then hand it over to a private edu-vendor. Meanwhile, the state reimburses the benefactor in the form of tax credits. Ed disruptors generally prefer that you not call these "vouchers," and they have half a point, since school vouchers have generally been used strictly as tuition to a private school. ESAs, on the other hand, are meant to be more versatile, allowing parents to buy any sort of educational service from a variety of vendors. Usually these programs are capped, because remember--the amount of money that goes into tax credit scholarship programs is the same amount of money that is cut from state budget revenues.
The right likes this for a couple of reasons. Rich folks escape taxes. Public schools get cut back--in fact, the whole idea of "school" gets undercut, which is nice for vendors because now if you want to score some of those sweet taxpayer dollars, you don't have to set up an entire school--just tutoring or maybe just a math class or who knows (because what most of these laws have in common is that nobody is really providing much oversight on how the money is spent). ESAs open up a nice clear path for state funding of private religious schools (even as Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue also clears the road for more taxpayer-funded Jesus). And if gutting public schools also weakens those nasty teachers unions, that would be a bonus, too.
The dream is a free market bazaar, where parents go searching for the bits and pieces of the program they want to put together for their children. Of course, they'll be given no guarantees that the vendors have to accept their children, and they will have to wade through marketing noise to find those bits and pieces, but the state will be able to say "We gave you a voucher. It's your problem, now." Also, schools that wanted to provide religious indoctrination or teach that the world is flat or that slaves were really quite happy would not have to deal with silly gummint busybodies telling them they can't have public tax dollars to do that. The wealthy and elite will still get what they want for their children, but they won't have to worry about so many of their tax dollars being spent on Those People's Children.
So lets check in across the nation.
We've already looked at Florida just a week or two ago, where the end game is in sight, courtesy of a bill that would combine all their voucher programs, reduce the practically nonexistent oversight already exerted on voucher schools, and turn them into tax scholarship-fed ESAs. Florida. as always, is the dream for privatizers and anti-public school forces.
SB 1041 would quadruple the cap on tax credit scholarships over the next three years (from $5 mill to $20 mill), meaning that much more money would be cut from the state budget as the wealthy make their contributions to the neo-voucher program. The bilkl also includes provisions for regular increases in the cap after that.
HB 60 would create ESAs. It follows the usual pattern of using students with special needs or from low-income families as the foot in the door, but adds a cool new wrinkle--anybody who's school building isn't open for 100% in person instruction can also have one of these vouchers. The bill starts out with a modest 8.432 student cap, then just keeps adding another 8,000 or students every year thereafter, eventually approaching almost half a billion dollars diverted from public schools to private ones.
Georgia already has voucher programs, and it has been rife with fraud and financial shenanigans, along with minimal-to-nonexistent oversight of the schools involved.
HB 1005 establishes ESA accounts, as well as expanding the program. This is the standard approach--open a choice program by creating something to "rescue" poor and/or disabled students, then once you've created the program, expand all the limits on it. Indiana is right on track. For instance, Republicans would like to raise the income limits on eligibility so that a family of four with a six-figure income will still be eligible to send their children to private schools at public expense. In Indiana, that means a religious school; about 97% of Indiana voucher schools are Christian religious schools.
We should also note that Indiana wants to increase tax support for virtual schools so that they get the same money per student as bricks and mortar schools--even though virtual schools have neither bricks nor mortars to maintain. As a resident of Pennsylvania, where cyber-schools get that full payment (and generally perform super-poorly), I can tell you that the financial impact on public schools is brutal. This is a dumb idea, Indiana.
Iowa just fast-tracked Senate Study Bill 1065, courtesy of Governor Kim Reynolds, to create the "Students First Scholarship Program." I could sum it up, but let's hear what the editorial board at the Des Moines Register has to say:Enter more proposals for “school choice.”
That phrase, as everyone knows by now, is an attempt to put lipstick on the pig of siphoning taxpayer money from public schools to funnel to private schools. And, largely, to Christian schools. Also, largely, to help families that already have the resources to send their kids to private schools.
The Iowa Satanic School recognizes the considerable efforts of the Iowa GOP to move forward with School Choice for our state. This will give Iowa families the choice to seek educational opportunities outside of public schools, using their taxpayer-funded student first scholarship to make Iowa’s FIRST Satanic School a reality.