• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • January 2013 •

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.A key fundamental element in our Quality Schools Action Framework and the central issue in the founding of IDRA, is fair funding. It is not the sole element, but it is fundamental and will be an ongoing and challenging goal to reach. States must fund public schools at a level that achieves excellence and equity for all children.

The many arguments to syphon public money away from public schools range from “look at all we’ve invested and gotten no returns” to “money doesn’t make a difference,” from questioning the efficiency of how the dollars are used to the claim that putting money into “those schools” for “those kids” is putting good money after bad. Ultimately the argument boils down to “money does make a difference but only for ‘our’ [affluent] children.”

Un-fair Funding

One huge attack on having excellent public schools has been to under-fund them and then complain about poor results. In Texas, we had a critical reduction in the state public education fund by many billions of dollars with immediate negative effects on schools and children. The long-term effect will show up in reduced graduation rates, fewer students prepared for college, and fewer students entering and completing college studies.

Parallel to direct cuts in education funding is the major challenge from voucher proponents. Vouchers, under the guise of giving parents choices, actually weaken neighborhood public schools and reduce opportunities for children to have excellent neighborhood public schools. Attempts to set up a voucher system come and go in state legislatures. Texas will be facing it again this legislative session.

Outside Influences

When the term “parent choice” replaced “voucher,” policymakers began putting forward legislation to put public dollars into the effort. Many used the model legislative language supported by political organizations, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Some state legislators have been provided training, technical assistance and the actual wording for bills that present state incursions into diverting public money to private schools. As a consequence, the private charter school industry is growing, and states are pulling more tax dollars away from public schools.

Another element is to make it seem the effort is intended to help poor children and children of color. One ultimate goal is to give middle-class parents access to public money as a supplement to the fees they are already paying to send their children to private schools.

Behind the Voucher Curtain

Here is a list of reasons vouchers are bad for public education and bad for families, especially families who are wage earners or poor.

  • Vouchers take money away from our neighborhood schools and the community.
  • With vouchers, neighborhood public schools have less money and may have to increase taxes for property owners and businesses.
  • Our neighborhood public schools must serve all children. Private schools don’t serve all children and can deny admission to any child. They often can exclude those they feel they can’t teach or don’t want for any reason.
  • Key supporters of vouchers have been against public school programs and funding to help all children.
  • Competition between private and public schools does not improve public neighborhood schools.
  • Neighborhood public schools have to answer to the public. Private schools do not.
  • Neighborhood public schools are an ideal place for parents to become involved and ensure quality instruction.
  • Private schools in Texas, for example, have neither the capacity nor capability to absorb large numbers of poor students.
  • Private schools are not held to the same rigid requirements as public schools. Many don’t meet minimum state requirements.
  • Often, the cost of a voucher does not cover the tuition at most elite schools.
  • Vouchers will rarely pay for transportation, uniforms, books and other fees.
  • Publicly funded vouchers create a dual system separate and unequal: one for the rich and one for the poor.
  • The best way to strengthen public schools is to strengthen public schools.

IDRA’s website has resources for public school advocates, including articles, sample statements and fact sheets (www.idra.org). It is critical that we say no to vouchers and actively support full and equitable funding of public schools to serve all children.

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is a senior education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at feedback@idra.org

[©2013, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2013 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]