Voucher Schools Hurt Racine Unified Students and Schools More Than Help
Mount Pleasant-Sturtevant Patch resident Soren Gajewski is Principal of Jefferson Lighthouse School, and he offers his view of the voucher system.
As the Directing Principal for Jefferson Lighthouse, and as a former teacher in the Milwaukee Public School system, I feel obligated to warn my neighbors about the impending expansion of the school voucher system.
Initially, the idea was sold as a way to give poor children an opportunity to attend private schools. The competition, in theory, would give public schools an incentive to “do a better job.” Meanwhile, poor students would have an opportunity to attend alternative types of programs, including religious, in hopes that those programs would raise achievement. While the idea has some good will in it, the outcome should be of great concern for everyone.
Warning signs, for me as a classroom teacher, were seen shortly after the program had begun. Throughout the school year I had several former voucher school students added to my class roster. Those students came for different reasons; their voucher school was shut down due to mismanagement, the school had expelled them or couldn’t handle the child’s disability, or the program was awful.
Unfortunately, our school budget was never compensated for those students. So, my class roster would grow, but the school district received no returned funds from the voucher schools. Essentially, the taxpayer-funded voucher money was wasted.
Voucher schools are not held to the level of accountability that the public schools are despite getting your taxpayer dollars. In fact, voucher schools can expel students, deny students for various reasons, require public schools to cover special education interventions, avoid some or all standardized tests, and hire educators with less than stellar resumes. The result? In some studies, the schools that did participate in comparable testing measures scored even with the public schools. In other studies, including the most recent comparison, the voucher scored lower than the public schools. Considering the selective capability of a private voucher school and the necessity of a parent to actively pursue a voucher for their child, the data should show stronger scores for private voucher students.
Now former MPS Superintendent Howard Fuller, an original proponent of vouchers, is opposed to the governor’s proposal to expand the program and remove all income requirements. It was no surprise to many of us that the original intent was to privatize the public school system. It was odd that suburban and rural lawmakers were in such agreement with urban, often minority, districts over this issue, but the truth is this was not about helping poor students specifically, it was beginning of the process of privatizing public schools.
For Racine Unified, it comes down to this: Voucher schools are bad news for a tax base that is struggling. We have no money to waste on strip-mall schools that come and go. We are not a community that wants to relinquish our oversight on the education of our children. We don’t want our public school system to have to spend our taxes on advertising and marketing.
Competition is good. More competition within the public school system might be valuable. And, no doubt, our schools must become more flexible and adaptable to changing economic conditions. However, the impact of voucher schools - making kids equate to profit - has not, does not, and will not equal a quality education for all of our children.