Public education is intended to be America’s great equalizer. Equitable access to quality opportunities in the classroom, experienced teachers, and to well-resourced schools should be of paramount importance to policy makers and legislators alike. The benefits provided in a public school setting are needed today more than ever. “It would be the ultimate irony of modern history,” the Center on Education Policy has written, “if America should dissolve the unifying glue of public education and splinter along ethnic and religious lines just at the time that many of the world’s emerging democracies are looking to the United States and its institutions as role models for building their nations.”
Privatization programs such as vouchers and neo-vouchers have been heralded as opportunities for advancement, particularly for low-income students and students of color, yet most fail basic criteria to effectively measure academic achievement, protect the civil rights of students in the classroom, and ensure teacher quality, fiscal accountability, transparency and oversight. Research in the past few years has converged: vouchers have negative effectives on student learning.
Charter school advocates highlight the flexibility and innovation within their programs and the “public choice” options provided to students attending low-performing neighborhood public schools. While some programs may benefit the students they serve, we must still consider the appropriateness of enabling the existence of charter laws that fail, like the voucher programs, to meet minimum criteria. In addition, in both the case of charter schools and voucher schools and programs, we must consider their fiscal impact on public schools as well as the associated increases in student segregation.
We strongly acknowledge that there continues to be much that this country can and should be doing to ensure the promise of a quality public education for all children. Every child is equally deserving of educational excellence in the classroom. However, undermining the ability to provide these opportunities for the majority of students across this country for the benefit of a few, does not accomplish this goal, and is not only short sighted, but ultimately cruel, ineffective and unfair.
What follows are recommendations to help advance this goal of achieving a quality public education for all students:
- Taxpayer dollars should not flow from the public school system to support private school vouchers, ESAs, Tuition Tax-Credits or any future scheme to circumvent state prohibitions on the use of tax dollars for religious entities.
- There should be a moratorium on all voucher programs with an immediate phase out that does not displace children presently in the voucher system.
- Special tax credits for businesses and individuals should be eliminated with so-called scholarship programs receiving the same tax benefit (deductibility) of other charitable programs. Businesses corporations and taxpayers should receive comparable benefits for supporting public schools.
- Because we recognize that many families have come to depend on charter schools we do not call for their immediate closure. We advocate instead for their absorption into the public school system. The state of Virginia is a fine example of a system in which the need for a charter is determined by a district, charter schools are accountable to the district, and are therefore governed by the taxpayers whom the district serves. We look forward to the day when all charter schools are governed not by private boards, but by those elected by the community, at the district, city or county level.
- In the immediate, we support the NAACP moratorium on charter schools, and insist that all states pass laws and regulations ensuring that all students have equal opportunity and rights, that schools are fully transparent and accountable to the taxpayers who fund them, and the corruption associated with the sector is weeded out. We advise states to use this report card for guidance.
- Instead of diverting resources, we should invest in public schools to make them better for all students. Evidenced-based and immediate actions steps include reducing class sizes, improving teacher training and recruitment, supporting pre-K education and increasing parental involvement.
This country should not continue to tolerate and subsidize unaccountable private and privately-managed charter schools. True, it is easier to transfer public funds to private entities than to undertake the challenging work of fixing our public schools. But it is fruitless and short-sighted to divert resources from the public schools that serve the vast majority of students in this nation. We believe that privatization is not only harmful to the public schools that enroll most children but has enabled policymakers to shirk their responsibility to fully support and improve our public schools and their teachers. Both partial and full privatization are ineffective substitutes for adequately funding public schools. We fear that the current political movement for privatization is leading toward the re-establishment of a dual school system. We recall Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s insistence upon the “urgency of now.” It is hypocritical to claim agreement on the goal of providing a quality public education for all children yet act in direct opposition to its fulfillment. Just as this nation was intentional about the establishment of the public education system, we must continue to be intentional about the urgent need to prioritize a quality public education for all students and not privatize the educational system for the benefit of just a few.
For full footnotes and appendix, please download the full report [PDF].