A forecast of school legislation in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning included the almost-certain return of expanded school voucher legislation in Arkansas, though it was placed under the comforting umbrella of euphemistic “school choice” legislation and further described euphemistically as “education savings accounts.”
Walton-fortune-backed forces, led by Bentonville Republican Jim Dotson and including well-paid lobbyists, almost passed voucher legislation in 2017. It had two prongs — “education savings accounts” in which families could receive a tax credit for putting money into accounts to pay for private school education and “education scholarships” in which any taxpayer could divert state tax payments into nonprofits that would then dole out money for private school tuition.
Call it what you will, these are school voucher programs. They allowed families and any taxpayer who despises real public schools to divert their normal state tax payments from the general fund for a broad panoply of public services and earmarking it instead for private school education. It would be like a law allowing me to divert my state tax money to Planned Parenthood to finance abortions.
As the Education Law Center, which tracks voucher legislation, puts it:
Protecting funding for public schools is critical to their success. Funding and support for public education are diminished when state legislatures divert taxpayer dollars to “vouchers” to pay for private and religious schooling. With vouchers a priority for the Trump administration, many states are moving to establish new programs or expand existing ones.
… Research has shown that vouchers do not improve student outcomes. Instead, vouchers drain critical resources from public education, thereby undermining the capacity of the public schools to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for all students, especially those at-risk or with special needs. Vouchers also lead to increased segregation within our communities, and private schools accepting vouchers do not have to comply with anti-discrimination laws. Even with this compelling evidence, states continue to propose laws to create or expand vouchers, and Congress is considering using federal education funds to incentivize states to do so.
School standards? They don’t apply to private schools either.
The so-called “savings account” and “scholarship” schemes were devised because pure vouchers proved unpopular with voters and public school supporters. It was easy to understand when the state cut checks directly to private schools for tuition. So these public money laundering schemes were devised to make vouchers more palatable, at least in appearance. The effect and result is the same — diminished support for public schools. Public dollars are diverted to private schools, including religious ones, with a loss of support not only for public schools but also for all other public services.
The 2017 legislation would have had a $10 million impact on state money in the first year alone and untold sums in future years. As yet, Dotson is playing coy about the terms of his new voucher bill. Just remember: It’s a voucher bill.
The ultimate goal of the “choice” movement is to let a parent take their tax dollars (actually theirs and other people’s tax dollars) anywhere they want to take them. It means nothing less than the dissolution of the great American institution of egalitarian public education. Though I have grown children, I don’t mind continuing to send dollars to public education, but I do mind subsidizing unaccountable private education for those who reject it.