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Posts Tagged ‘vouchers’

Betsy DeVos + ESAs = End of Blaine Amendments, Siphoning of Public Funds to Religiously Affiliated Schools

February 6, 2021 Comments off

In June, the US Supreme Court overturned a court decision that upheld Montana’s Blaine Amendment prohibiting the use of public funds for religiously affiliated schools. The logic behind the “Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue” ruling was explained in this Wikipedia post:

The ruling effective stated that if the state offered public scholarship funds for a private school, they could not discriminate against religious schools.

The Espinoza case emerged when Montana passed a law offering scholarships to children through Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), a mechanism whereby wealthy donors can get a tax break by contributing to a “scholarship fund” that parents in the state can assess to enroll their children in private schools that meet the needs of their child more than the public schools. The laws that create these ESAs sound as if they have high-minded intent: they want to give parents a choice for their children who are struggling in their local public school. The argument, however, is disingenuous at best and Machiavellian at worst. Some ESA donors are also investors in for-profit schools that can profit from the “choice” parents make; some donors have strong religious convictions and want to buttress parochial schools or support the opening of “Christian Academies”; and some politicians want to cater to parochial schools parents and Evangelicals who believe that public “government schools” are the root of cultural rot.

Wikipedia dryly noted how the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Espinoza case might play out:

As a result, it is expected that states that have similar programs with no-aid provisions in their constitutions will be forced to re-evaluate any program restrictions

And on cue, three New England states are lining up to take advantage of Espinoza. In Vermont, a lawsuit by parents seeking to use tuition funds for a Catholic school in Burlington is wending its way to the Supreme Court and a similar case in Maine is headed that way. In New Hampshire, the legislature is advancing HB 20, which will enable parents to use funds from the state and funds from an ESA to enroll in any school they wish to attend.

The motives in passing Blaine Amendments were not purely rooted in a desire for non-sectarian schooling. Nativism and anti-Catholic prejudice played a role. But in the 1870s when Blaine Amendments were introduced at the state level, public schools were not wholly free from religious influence: they often incorporated Protestant prayers and the readings were often highly moralistic.

Where and when will it end? The satirical writer in me believes that it will take the opening of a chain of Islamic schools or schools sponsored by witches to help voters come to their senses. In the best of all worlds, voters would want to see unity in their communities and in an effort to create that would believe schools should remain free of all religious affiliation. We are not living in the best of all worlds, though… I only hope we will muddle through.

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Reasoning Behind NH Voucher Bill Flawed Full of Holes… But with the GOP in Control of the Senate, House, and State House it WILL Pass

February 3, 2021 Comments off

As noted in the column and in an op ed piece I wrote a few weeks ago, the Democrats won the battle for the Presidency but lost the ground war in many states, including and especially my home state of NH. Today’s Valley News features an article by AP writer Holly Ramer that describes the deeply flawed Hinch Bill that will create “Education Freedom Accounts” that could enable parents to use $4500 to enroll in the school of their choice.

In their original conception, “Education Savings Accounts” (the generic name given to this funding scheme) enabled rich libertarian-minded donors to make contributions to a fund and get a tax deduction. In most cases, those funds would be used by disadvantaged children. This funding scheme was a way for “pro-choice” advocates to sugar coat vouchers in a way that progressives would presumably find difficult to argue against. NH’s version of this concept makes no pretense of relying on affluent donors and makes no pretense of trying to help those students who are “trapped” in “underperforming schools” based on their zip code. This bill is a naked transfer of money earmarked for schools to ANY parents and specifically underscores the availability of funds for students opting out of public schools for homeschooling. One stand-alone item reads:

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to require that an EFA student be enrolled, full- or part-time, in either a private school or nonpublic online school

When that is combined with the broad flexibility of the bill is is conceivable that a parent could use the $4500 per child to rent an RV with wifi and spend the year traveling across the country… or use the $4500 to buy lots of electronic gadgets that could be used for “remote learning”… or— you get the idea.

It also provides parents with a $4,500 de facto scholarship for any school of their choice: Philips Exeter Academy; a parochial school; a boarding school; or a for-profit on-line charter school.

And here’s what is even more disturbing: the $4500 does not come exclusively from the funds accumulated in the ESA: it comes from the general fund meaning it comes from the already limited coffers public schools have at their disposal.

And last but not least, there is no accountability whatsoever…. at least not the kind of accountability imposed on public schools:

… While participants wouldn’t be required to take statewide assessment tests like their public school peers, “It has better means of assessment. It has parental accountability,” said (Rep.Glenn) Cordelli, R-Tuftonburo.

“A parent can walk and take their dollars with them if their child is not getting a proper education,” he said.

Oh boy… the parent can get as check for $4500 and as long as they vouch that their child is getting a good education they can pocket the money while their child watched Khan Academy videos— or videos based on textbooks like “Mathematics for Christians”. Live free or die…..

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The “Parenting Tax” Levied on Black Parents Conveniently Overlooked by Choice Advocates

January 1, 2021 Comments off

This short but powerful article by Livia Gershon from an October 2019 JStor Daily describes the “parenting tax” levied on black parents because unlike their white counterparts, they are unable to reside in neighborhoods with desirable schools and are, therefore, compelled to spend time navigating the “choice” given to them in the urban areas where they reside. Based on a study conducted by sociologists Angela Simms and Elizabeth Talbert, one aspect of school choice that’s rarely part of the debate on “choice” is the “tax” in time and effort that it imposes on many black parents.

While white families often chose to live in specific communities because they were known for having “good schools,” that option was often not available to black families—and not just for financial reasons. Many black parents worried that moving into “good,” whiter districts would take them away from their social support systems, which, due to historical segregation, tend to be in communities with “bad” local schools.

Most voters– especially affluent white voters— want to believe that mobility is possible for all parents. But for many economically disadvantaged parents there are neighborhoods and communities that are not available to them, especially if they are minorities. When these families want to provide good schools for their children, they cannot simply choose to move to a town or zone that has a desirable school. Instead, they can enter the labyrinthine process of “choice”, where they submit paperwork for schools to pore over and decide if their child is worthy of consideration. This “hidden tax” is levied for all parents in some cities (i.e. NYC where “selective schools” begin at grade 6 and “magnet programs” begin as early as Kindergarten) and for poor and minority students in all too rare circumstances in some regions. But because there is “choice” it is possible for some politicians and voters to claim equity of opportunity without acknowledging the inequitable hardships that result from accessing choice. 

Ms. Gershon concludes her post with this:

Simms and Talbert write that this sort of “tax” in time and effort paid by black parents will continue as long as choice—rather than desegregating neighborhoods and equalizing communities’ school resources—is presented as the answer to unequal schools.

Amen!