Voucher Watch

Private school voucher programs lack accountability, regulation, and civil rights protections that would normally be present in public schools.

Private school vouchers have been popping up on both the federal and state level. Voucher programs and tuition tax credit programs use taxpayer money to send students to private and religious schools, violating our country’s separation of church and state. These programs also lack accountability, regulation, and civil rights protections that would normally be present in public schools.

Federal Level

On the federal level, the Senate HELP Committee had a markup of the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA), in which Senators Rand Paul and Tim Scott proposed a private school voucher amendment to S. 1094, the “Strengthening America’s Schools Act.” Paul’s amendment would have turned Title I funding into a voucher program, resulting in Title I money following the students to any public or private school they chose. This would have diluted Title I funds, hurting students in poverty the program was designed to help. We especially don’t want Title I funds going to schools that have proven ineffective, lack accountability, and deprive students of their rights. The amendment failed in a vote eight to 14.

Fortunately, last week’s ESEA markup, H.R. 5, “the Student Success Act,” in the House Education and Workforce Committee did not include any voucher amendments.

State Level

On the state level, a few states have tried to sneak private school voucher programs into their budget bills.

The South Carolina appropriations bill, H 3710, includes a tuition tax credit program for students with special needs. Tuition tax credits – backdoor vouchers – are especially harmful for students with special education needs because students often give up protections provided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that they would be guaranteed at public schools. AU issued an alert to urge Governor Haley to veto this voucher scheme, but she unfortunately failed to do so and signed the bill into law this week.

The Ohio biennial budget bill, HB 59, includes provisions to expand Ohio’s school voucher program. Currently, the voucher program is limited to students who are attending schools they define as “failing.” HB 59 would remove that requirement, vastly expanding the program to a greater number of students, and thus, a greater amount of state funds will flow to non-public schools. HB 59 passed in the legislature this week and is now in the hands of Governor Kasich. If you live in Ohio, contact Governor Kasich and urge him to veto HB 59 with these voucher expansion provisions.

The Wisconsin appropriations bill, AB 40, also includes a voucher program expansion and is on the way to Governor Walker, who says he will sign it into law on July 1st. If you live in Wisconsin, show your opposition to vouchers and tell Governor Walker to veto this bill!

Another school voucher expansion was recently signed into law by Governor Brewer in Arizona. SB 1363 expanded the current voucher program by broadening the eligibility to allow all children entering kindergarten to receive vouchers. AU issued an action alert on the opposing this expansion.

Fortunately, a few states brought us good news about vouchers.

The Strafford County New Hampshire Superior Court declared the state’s tuition tax credit program is unconstitutional, saying the government should not be able to fund religious education. AU Executive Director Rev. Barry Lynn stated, “This decision is a great victory for public schools and for anyone who doesn’t want tax dollars to pay for religious indoctrination and discrimination.”

Originally, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s budget included a provision that would have created a two million dollar pilot school voucher program. The problematic program would have used taxpayer money to send 200 students to largely unregulated private and religious schools. In the end, the New Jersey budget did not include the constitutionally suspect program.

Montana Governor Bullock vetoed SB 81, which would have created a tuition tax credit program. Dr. Susan Wicklund submitted a veto letter on behalf of AU and the Governor vetoed the bill on May 6th. You can thank Governor Bullock here.

AU is closely watching and fighting against voucher schemes around the country, because taxpayers should not have to pay for another’s religious education. To stay informed check out our State Action Center and sign up for our alerts!