Public education advocates in Oklahoma are currently engaged in a battle that may ultimately decide the fate of our schools. Last week, HB2949, a bill concerning “Education Savings Accounts” (or “vouchers” as it were) passed (albeit BARELY) out of committee. Despite stacking the committee with the authors of the bill, it took the Speaker of the House and the Speaker Pro Tempore to nudge the bill over the threshold. Had it been left solely to the education committee, it would NOT have advanced.
It’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts concerning this issue. I’ve wanted to post about this legislation all week. But there are so many things wrong with the idea of vouchers, I had a hard time determining which tack to take. What follows is an abridged version of my rather lengthy diatribe against vouchers. I chose just three of the many reasons why vouchers are bad for education, and consequently, bad for Oklahoma’s children:
It’s not MY money. I have three young children. In three years, they will all be school-age. If the per-pupil expenditure holds steady, Oklahoma will be allocating about 25K per year for their education. My husband and I did NOT pay 25K in taxes of any kind. Our property taxes last year were around $1900. Of that amount, around 60% goes to common education. Even if you combine federal and state income tax, sales tax, and property tax, our share wasn’t $25,000. That means other people’s tax contributions are making up the difference. Just like our taxes were before we had children. And like my parents’ taxes are now. It seems odd that republicans would choose to support a measure in which an individual gets to decide the fate of other people’s tax dollars. It behooves us all to support an educated populace because it correlates to a lower rate of incarceration and those dependent on government subsidies.
If you want to win the war on poverty, education plays a huge role. If you want to End School As-we-know-it, starve public education of much needed funding and support.
There’s no clearcut plan for accountability. Public schools must operate transparently. They are subject to testing mandates at the local, state, and federal level, and to report those test scores so they can be used as an evaluation tool. Public Schools educate all children. They must provide accommodations for students with documented physical and/or learning disabilities. Public Schools must operate with fiscal transparency. This means anybody can request the financial records of a particular district and see how the money is being spent. Private schools are not required to do any of these things. In fact, when the author of HB2949 was asked about accountability, his answers were vague at best:
Since when do Republicans (or anybody, for that matter) Encourage Spending without Accountability?
The numbers don’t add up. Proponents of voucher bills like to perpetuate the false rhetoric that public schools will benefit from vouchers because a small portion of the per-pupil expenditure will remain with his/her home public school district. This kind of logic simply doesn’t work. I teach in a high school with around 1100 students. Most teachers’ student load is around 120-150 students/day. That means you’d have to see that kind of exodus from our school due to vouchers in order to eliminate even ONE teaching position. And that’s only if all of those 120-150 kids ar in the same grade. We still have to keep the lights on and the heat and air going in the same building. We have to pay custodians to sweep the same halls and clean the same bathrooms, whether 1000 or 1100 students are using them. In other words, our overhead costs don’t decrease because a few students take their money and leave. Our overhead remains virtually the same, except now we have less money to cover those costs. It’s a sneaky way to cut funding from schools if your endgame is to Eradicate [public] Schools in America. They’re already running on fumes thanks to the steepest cuts to education in the nation over the last 8 years. Money diverted from public education to private schools might just be the nail in the coffin.