I am baffled as to why Governor Kasich is in favor of increasing private school vouchers for nearly half of our school children in Ohio. Under Kasich’s new budget, 45% of our 1.8 million students will qualify for $5000 vouchers to attend private schools, even if they are currently attending a public school that is rated as “excellent.” Currently, Ohio offers vouchers to students assigned to low-performing schools and the Cleveland schools, and to students with special needs and students with autism.
While private school backers often tout the benefits of private education, studies have shown that public school students consistently outscore their private school counterparts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. And unlike public schools, which are vigorously tracked through testing and will be required to teach common standards in English and math, private schools are not required to teach any standards or administer any tests other than the ones they choose. In a nutshell, they are far less accountable than are public schools. In many cases, charter schools are not required to disclose financial reports to the IRS, much less the parents of the children who attend the schools.
At the same time, private schools do not have the same mandate to serve as do public schools; they do not provide the same level of service as public schools. For example, they do not have to provide free lunches for needy students or special services for children with learning disabilities. They are not required to hire highly qualified teachers who are certified in the areas that they teach or provide transportation for their students. They can choose deny admission to students based on income, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, and they are not required to offer any explanations for their decisions.
Parents who are considering sending their children to private schools need to be informed. They need to understand that a voucher is no guarantee that their children will be allowed to attend the private school of their choice. Many private schools are cash strapped and can only keep lower tuition rates around the $5000 mark because they depend on corporate and noncorporate subsidies such as donations and endowments from generous alumni. Some schools require parents to not only pay the tuition, but also make huge donations to keep their doors open.
If parents want to send their child to an independent day school, $5000 is merely a drop in the bucket. Some private elementary schools in Ohio cost upwards of $30,000 a year. If a private school must choose between the child of poor parents and the child of wealthy parents with the potential of donating tens of thousands of dollars over the next 50 years, who do you think will get the open slot?
Bill Phillis, Executive Director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy, thinks this is just the beginning. This voucher scheme opens the door to a complete unraveling of the public school system, Phillis says, and it forges a path to allow vouchers for families of all income levels.
I am just amazed that Ohio is going to the trouble of changing the Common Core when it appears our governor is determined to destroy our public schools. The state already spends more than $100 million a year on vouchers for more than 20,000 students. Not to mention that taxpayers already subsidize private schools by virtue of their nonprofit status. Kasich’s voucher expansion plan is money poorly spent, especially when our public schools continue to be underfunded in his proposed new budget.
By Susan Ridgeway, Wooster Education Association