Vouchers Hurt: Inequity, Discrimination & Segregation
Despite enduring unpopularity with Arizona voters and poor outcomes for students, Arizona lawmakers remain myopically focused on expanding private school vouchers at all costs. Pushed by out-of-state special interests, these lawmakers ignore the reality that vouchers hurt Arizona students and communities. This is the second in a 4-part blog series.
As reported in our first installment of this series, research clearly demonstrates that private school vouchers do not improve student achievement or academic outcomes. However, year after year lawmakers point to private school vouchers as a solution for children of color, Native students, rural students, children in poverty, and more.
Ensuring a fully-funded school in every neighborhood is by far the most equitable practice because local public schools accept all students and provide meals, services, programs, and connections for all families. Rather than adequately funding these students via public schools in their communities, Arizona majority lawmakers exploit traditionally underserved communities to further special interests.
The Racist Roots of Vouchers
The modern debate around private school vouchers often ignores their racist origins. While voucher pushers like to gloss over this history and the impact of vouchers on black and brown communities, ignoring the racist roots of vouchers hides the fact that the current system perpetuates the racist ideals on which vouchers were founded. The history of private school vouchers is rooted in white supremacy, white flight, and racism.
White Flight Leads to Increased Segregation
Private school vouchers exacerbate segregation. This is not a design flaw, it’s baked into the design. Vouchers were started by opponents of desegregation, and became a tool for white flight across the South in the 1960s.
In Arizona, “choice” schools have been shown to cherry-pick their students. Low-income students, special needs students and children of color are statistically less likely to be chosen, leading to a system of haves and have-nots.
Arizona “choice” schools serve significantly fewer students of color than public schools; students of color comprise over half of AZ students, but only one-third of charter and private school students. Furthermore, 75 percent of Arizona families choosing ESA vouchers are exiting “A” and “B” rated districts in more affluent suburban neighborhoods.
Vouchers Undermine Civil Rights
Most civil rights protections that cover students while they attend public schools do not follow them to private schools. When families use a voucher, they give away the rights afforded to them in public schools. For instance, students who leave their public school on a voucher forfeit their IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) rights. Moreover, students who attend private schools using vouchers are stripped of the First Amendment, due process, and other constitutional and statutory rights guaranteed to them in public schools. Private schools that accept taxpayer-funded vouchers are legally allowed to, and frequently do, deny admission to LGBTQ students and students with LGBTQ parents. In addition, many private schools receiving voucher funds utilize a curriculum that is anti-LGBTQ, racist, and sexist.
National data show that private schools tend to be more segregated than public schools with similar populations. Private schools also enroll higher populations of white students compared to public schools. Nationwide, 69% of private school students are white, 9% are Black, and 10% are Latino. In fact, as of 2012, 43% of private school students across the country attended mostly segregated schools, meaning schools where white students comprise 90% or more of the school’s enrollment.
According to a report published by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, “Many state policy-makers are pushing for additional growth of voucher policies, it is useful to consider how the shifting schooling landscape impacts such civil rights protections. The basic tendency in the development of voucher law and policy is to initially justify the subsidies in terms of the severe educational needs of students of color and students in poverty attending inferior public schools. As the policies develop, they increasingly move toward general subsidies for private schooling, including support for higher income groups and students who have never attended public schools. Many of the state restrictions on funding nonpublic or religious institutions have been interpreted away by state courts. These trends call into question the ability of voucher programs to serve the vulnerable student populations for whom they were ostensibly created.”[/caption]
How to Create an Equitable School System
Arizona policymakers must focus on strengthening our public school system by creating equitable funding structures so that all Arizona kids have access to a high quality education in their community.
Voucher schools are sapping funding from public schools and often exclude the neediest students. Arizona has the most inequitable school funding in the country, providing $7,613 less per child in “nonwhite” districts than white districts (EdBuild “23 Billion” Report, 2019).