Expanded Vouchers in OH, WI Drain Public School Budgets, Add to Inequity… But Cuomo Wants Them for NYS!!!
The Google Public School feed this past weekend had two articles on pending legislation in Wisconsin and Ohio to expand existing voucher programs that enable urban students to attend private suburban school. In both cases the beneficiaries would be parochial schools, who would receive roughly $7,000 per student in WI and $5,700 per student in OH, not enough to pay full tuition but clearly enough to help keep the private sectarian schools in the suburbs afloat. This legislation is terrible on several counts:
- It requires parents to make up the difference between the tuition charge and the voucher, effectively eliminating the most poverty stricken families from the pool of those who could take advantage of the program.
- It gives vouchers to parents who have already chosen to enroll their children in private schools! According to the State Department of Public Instruction, 86 percent of voucher applicants for next year don’t even go to public school now. In effect, instead of providing a means for students raised in poverty to attend better schools the vouchers provide a bonus of $5,700 to parents who can afford to send their child to parochial school and take away that sum from public schools who cannot achieve savings from having fewer students enrolled.
- It directs public funds to specifically identified religiously affiliated schools. It is hard to believe that the legislators would provide vouchers to a school operated by a mosque or a Wiccan group, yet providing funds to Catholic schools is acceptable.
- There is no evidence that providing vouchers to students in urban districts improves the opportunities for large groups of students or improves the urban schools. Indeed, Milwaukee has had vouchers in place for over 20 years and Cleveland has had vouchers for nearly 20 years and neither city’s schools have improved.
But despite this track record two midwestern states led by Republicans, NY’s Governor Cuomo is promoting a similar law in his state. So vouchers are the silver bullet for Republicans, neo-liberal Democrats, and “reformers” who view schooling as a commodity that customers can select the same way they buy a car. The flaw in this thinking is that “informed consumers” have equitable resources and deregulated schools offer sound programs. One look at the track record of deregulated for-profit charter schools and the vast inequities in wealth puncture these assumptions… but vampire ideas are hard to kill!
Andrew Cuomo’s war against public education continues… and voters across the country should take note! Why? Because Cuomo’s playbook is no different than that of the President’s and, in all probability, no different than that of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democrat nominee for 2016.
An editorial in today’s Journal News calls out Cuomo and the NYS legislature for their latest idea on public school funding: $70 million in tax credits for parents paying private school tuitions and $50 million in tax credits to corporations or private donors to those same schools. Oh… and parochial schools are NOT exempt from this proposed giveaway. Public schools? They get cut. Yonkers, one of the school districts serving children raised in poverty, is a case in point:
The Yonkers schools have cut 535 staff members in the last eight years. The schools now offer one guidance counselor for every 827 students, one social worker for every 2,405 students and one library media specialist for every 3,307 students.
But that’s nothing. Yonkers is looking at a $26 million hole in its 2015-16 school budget. If the state doesn’t fill it, the public school system is prepared to make mind-blowing cuts: 20 out of 38 art teachers; 20 out of 33 music teachers; 10 of 37 physical education teachers; and 10 high school teachers.
Also on the firing line are all sports, extensive transportation, half the budget for supplies and materials and plenty more.
The editors acknowledge that the Yonkers school district has experienced some financial management challenges, but they rightfully note that the fiscal management has been in “disarray”:
It’s true that last year the state wrote Yonkers a one-shot $28 million check to cover part of an accounting mishap. A investigation by the city’s inspector general found that the school system’s undermanned and inexperienced finance department – the product of previous budget cuts – had left the schools’ finances in “complete disarray.”
I know from experience in NYS that the toughest jobs to find are those in finance… and the most crucial jobs in managing a large district (I was superintendent in one of the 10 largest districts) are in finance. When I was appointed Superintendent our record keeping was in “complete disarray” and it took us 18 months of hard work combined with a grant from the then State Senator, Steve Saland, to computerize out bookkeeping to get the house in order. But in the late 1990s the state government was working with public schools. Now, with the State legislature seemingly wants to let districts like Yonkers crash and burn and wants to do everything possible to enhance private education in the name of “school choice”. But here’s the sad reality: Mr. Cuomo’s desire to privatize schools aligns with the Federal Government’s agenda… and that of the Republican party. Unless struggling districts like Yonkers are given the time and financial resources to improve, their fiscal health will never be restored. And I would like to know what school district serving affluent children would allow their local schools to have staffing ratios of “one guidance counselor for every 827 students, one social worker for every 2,405 students and one library media specialist for every 3,307 students” or consider a budget that calls for cuts to 66% of its music staff and 30% of its PE staff. At least the teachers who lose their jobs in Yonkers won’t be unemployed for long: they will be able to find work in nearby private and parochial schools where children raised in poverty will be given the choice to attend. What’s that you say? The children in Yonkers won’t be able to attend the schools getting tax breaks because their enrollments are limited? Oh, never mind. Those kids in Yonkers don’t matter.