Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The truth about the Bush/Jindal voucher agenda

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal joined Florida Governor Jeb Bush in Washington today to push their failed voucher agenda and rail against a Justice Department lawsuit aimed at requiring the state to follow existing desegregation agreements.

Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder filed suit against the state for failing to properly clear its voucher scheme with federal courts that hold sway over the decades-old cases. The filing is expected to be heard this month by Federal District Judge Ivan Lemelle, who had ruled earlier this year that the voucher scheme violates a 38-year old desegregation agreement in Tangipahoa Parish.

“This case is actually very simple, despite efforts and talking points that paint it as an assault on poor children,” said Louisiana Federation of Teaches President Steve Monaghan. “The Louisiana Department of Education had an obligation to address specific questions presented by the U.S. Justice Department because it could have an impact on desegregation agreements in a number of Louisiana school districts. The state failed to provide the information to the Justice Department, leaving the Justice Department with no alternative but to file amendments to the existing lawsuit.”

Monaghan said the adoption of the voucher scheme and the subsequent refusal to provide requested information has been a constant that has led to an unprecedented number of lawsuits.

“Constitution and law have been consistently treated as mere suggestions. Then, vilification of those who dare to challenge, followed by outrage when the court sends a strong rebuke has been the pattern,” Monaghan said. “The only difference is this time is the act has been taken to the national stage.”

Separating fact from fiction

Bush and Jindal say they are standing up for choice and their agenda is masked in rhetoric of supporting children. But the facts are clear-- choice and vouchers don’t improve student achievement, are often discriminatory, and deny children a high-quality learning experience that ensures they have the critical thinking and problem solving skills they need to succeed.

With schools more segregated now than 40 years ago, the Department of Justice must continue to serve as a watchdog to ensure all children are treated equally.
Louisiana’s voucher scheme does not help children
A recent release of state testing results revealed the Louisiana students attending private schools through Governor Jindal’s school voucher program perform a whopping 30 points below average. Only 40% of these students leave the year performing at or above grade level.

Voucher schools avoid public oversight and accountability

In a recent Louisiana state audit, the New Living Word School failed because it was not accounting for its funds properly and was removed from the voucher program.

State Superintendent John White touted this as an example of appropriate accountability and oversight, also claiming that 51 of 52 schools passed the audit. However, New Living Word School was the only school of the 52 that could be audited because the bookkeeping at the other schools made them unauditable.

Only 7 of 115 schools participating in the program in 2012-1013 indicated in their annual reports that they had special education classes.

Louisiana schools with children enrolled through the voucher program are using materials from Bob Jones University Press and ABeka Book. These publishers are not on the state-approved textbook list. They teach that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time and that KKK fights the “decline in morality” and push anti-science and creationist teachings.

At one voucher school in Louisiana, pregnant students are expelled.

Vouchers Do Not Increase Student Achievement

A September 2002 General Accounting Office report that reviewed 78 privately funded school voucher programs that used family income as their only eligibility criteria and permitted families to use their award at nearly any private school concluded, “there is no significant difference in achievement gains between voucher users and nonusers.”

Milwaukee vouchers: A February 2013 report found that the Milwaukee public school students outperform voucher students.

Fifty-seven percent of voucher school students scored proficient or higher in reading, compared to 60 percent of Milwaukee Public School students who reached proficiency in reading. Forty-one percent of the students in voucher schools reached proficiency in math on the test, while 50 percent of their Milwaukee Public School counterparts reached proficiency.

District of Columbia vouchers: After studying the program since its beginning and collecting data from 2004 to 2009, University of Arkansas researcher Patrick J. Wolf and his team found that “There is no conclusive evidence that the [voucher program] affected student achievement.”

Cleveland vouchers: A 2007 study found no differences for voucher students in five out of six subjects.

Voucher Schools Lack Accountability

Voucher schools don’t have to disclose their budgets to parents, taxpayers, or state authorities, enabling fraud and financial mismanagement.

Vouchers Do Not Increase “Choice” For the Vast Majority of Students and Are Often Discriminatory

In jurisdictions where voucher programs exist, private school operators decide how many, if any, voucher students they will admit. They also decide who to admit.

According to a U.S. Department of Education (“USDE”) survey of urban private schools, up to 85 percent of schools would “definitely or probably not” want to participate in a voucher program if they were required to accept “students with special needs, such as learning disabilities, limited English proficiency or low achievement.”

Only 1.5 percent of vouchers are in special education in the Milwaukee program, compared to 19 percent of the students enrolled in public schools.

In the District of Columbia, 21.6 percent of those families who reject vouchers did so because the private school options lacked the special needs services that their children needed. Significantly, 12.3% of students who accepted vouchers but then withdrew, cited a lack of special needs services as the reason for leaving.

Only one-third of voucher schools accepted students with severe disabilities in the Cleveland vouchers program.

As the New York Times has reported, some Georgia schools funded through tuition tax credits ban LGBT students, students suspected of being LGBT or even students who support LGBT people.

Americans Overwhelmingly Oppose Vouchers.

According to a poll conducted by Gallup and PDK, 70 percent of Americans oppose private school vouchers — the highest level of opposition to vouchers ever recorded in this survey.

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