With President Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, many of the educational reforms she is in favor of have become a part of the national dialogue. One complex policy change that DeVos is in favor of is a voucher program. Voucher programs can take many forms but very simply, a voucher program means that the federal (or state) government provides families with a voucher that they can spend on their children’s education; at a private, public or charter school. Detractors of voucher programs point out that if families get more choice, public schools, especially in poor areas will be hurt.
A federal voucher program would likely not affect the Appleton School district as much because Appleton schools have more money than many public schools and there are fewer religious, charter or private school options in this area to siphon federal funding.
Private schools in the area simply don’t have the space to cater to enough students to significantly change the apportionment of state or federal education dollars.
A voucher program would most definitely affect inner city schools much more, like Milwaukee. A sad reality about our education system is that when families can easily choose segregated options for schooling their kids, they do. In cities with diverse populations, parents of White students may send their kids to white majority private and charter schools in effect ensuring they will not be in school with Black students.
Public schools receive funding based on test scores and other metrics of performance. If a charter school student is not performing well, they can get sent back to public school, so they are the public schools problem. This means that in effect a struggling student becomes a funding issue and the needs of the student are not the first fiscal priority of the school.
Appleton has 14 public charter schools. Public charters allow students and families to have choice in the academic focus of the school but they are still open to all students. Academic focus can range from Arts to Engineering, and as the job market narrows, focused education can provide a chance for an economic boon that is especially valuable for students coming from low income backgrounds.
Public schools have to educate every student that comes through the door. Privatizing schools enables families to use public funds to create homogenous schools. One of the best things about integrated public schools is the variety of lived experience and backgrounds which allows for more nuanced discussion and learning. If voucher programs don’t have strict limits, this could all be gone.