It’s Time for Congress to Renew Support for Public Schools; Oppose Vouchers

The way to support public schools is to support public schools.

No, that’s not a redundant statement. It is a crucial reminder these days when public funds are being diverted in some states to private institutions. And, with Congress close to reauthorizing ESEA, and the possibility of a voucher amendment looming, it is important to keep the focus where it needs to be: on supporting ALL the 50 million students in America’s public schools.

This is the week to be a part of supporting public education when it really needs a boost.

The boost is needed to get ESEA over the finish line in Congress. ESEA is the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (often referred to by its most recent iteration: No Child Left Behind), and it is the multi-year authorization legislation for key federal funding programs that help states and districts serve the most needy kids.

The legislation is in major need of reauthorization. The House passed its version last week by five votes, and the Senate is expected to take up its version as early as today.

Both Senate and House ESEA versions maintain accountability, but give states and districts more control over how they intervene and promote improvements. School boards have advocated for more local control and fewer mandates that cost money and affect tailoring solutions to local issues.

But it is not over yet. The National School Board Association says, “We anticipate that more amendments on vouchers, tuition tax credits for non-public schools, Title I portability or other measures will be offered as early as Monday, July 13.”

The largest national public education organizations representing teachers, superintendents and school boards are in lock step in opposing vouchers and other type proposals.

The National Education Association, the largest teachers’ organization, opposes school vouchers because “they divert essential resources from public schools to private and religious schools, while offering no real ‘choice’ for the overwhelming majority of students.”

The National School Board Association reports that in a 2013 PDK Gallup poll, “an overwhelming majority (70 percent) of Americans opposed private school vouchers, the highest percentage since 1993. Vouchers and tuition tax credits siphon scarce resources, time, and attention from our nation’s public schools, which educate 50 million students.” NSBA points out that vouchers do not provide accountability.

The nation’s superintendent association – the American Association of School Administrators – explains it well: “Public education is under attack from several directions, especially in the increased movement on school voucher legislation. Proponents of voucher legislation argue that public education is failing its students and that the private sector could better educate these students. As superintendents, you must be vocal in opposition of these arguments. Public schools are not failing, and students are graduating from public schools at higher rates and taking more challenging coursework than ever before.”

U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a former local school board member, blocked a committee amendment to authorize vouchers. She said, “Vouchers undermine the basic goals of public education by allowing funding that is designated for our most at-risk students to be re-routed to private school,” Murray is a senior member of the Senate education committee and is co-author of the underlying ESEA bill with committee chair, Senator Lamar Alexander.

“Vouchers only provide the illusion of choice to students from low-income backgrounds,” Murray added. “And it is these low-income students who ultimately lose out when funds are siphoned away from the public schools they attend.”

If the government is going to provide a system of public education, the work should always be to support it and make provisions for its progress, and to make sure that anywhere a child lives, rural, urban or suburban, wealthy or not, there’s a well-resourced school that can meet their needs.

Get involved and call your U.S. Senators today. You can call this number and leave messages for Senator McConnell and Senator Paul: 202/224-3121.

About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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