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Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) called on the Department of Education to take the necessary steps to ensure proper oversight and encourage accountability of taxpayer-funded voucher schools following the findings of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released on Sept. 12. In December of 2014, Rep. Pocan, along with Reps. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH), requested the GAO report after advocates for people with disabilities, including the ACLU and Disability Rights Wisconsin, raised concerns that Wisconsin’s voucher program, either tacitly or explicitly, allowed participating taxpayer-funded voucher schools to discriminate against students with disabilities in their admission policies.
“The GAO report confirms our deepest concerns about taxpayer-funded voucher schools,” said Pocan. “We already know voucher and many charter school programs lack the same levels of accountability and transparency as our public schools, but what this study proves is that many of these schools are also failing to meet the needs of special needs students and in many cases discriminating against them.
“Republicans in Wisconsin and across the country are breaking our public education system by depleting funds from public schools and rerouting them to the comparatively few students in private schools. Unless we reverse this trend, we will be left with an education system that favors taxpayer-funded voucher and charter schools, with low educational standards and discriminatory practices, at the expense of public schools.”
“Despite the push—made by some states and trumpeted by some running for political office—to expand private school voucher programs and education savings accounts, this nonpartisan GAO report verifies that vouchers and voucher-like schemes don’t work. They don’t help kids who use them, and they harm the schools that serve kids who don’t use them,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “This report confirms basic facts we have long known: While public schools have the responsibility for all students, many voucher schools take public funding while picking and choosing students based on their academic and behavioral characteristics. Voucher schools don’t abide by the same academic quality standards as public schools. They blur the lines separating church and state, and drain critical funding away from public schools. Finally, vouchers exacerbate inequity—despite what the politicians, billionaires and billionaire politicians who promote them claim. Let’s end the drive to privatize education and, instead, invest resources in public schools so that all students have access to a high-quality neighborhood school.”
“The latest GAO study further confirms what many educators and parents across the country know: vouchers do not help the students most in need, they ignore the real opportunity gaps that exist in our public schools today, and they fail to improve student achievement,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “No matter what you call it – school choice or so-called opportunity scholarships – vouchers siphon dollars away from our public schools to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense with little to no regard for our students. Students’ chances for success should not depend on securing a voucher or living in the right zip code. If we are serious about doing what works for all of our students, we should focus instead on equipping all students for success and closing the opportunity gaps.”
The GAO report found that participation in taxpayer-funded voucher programs and education savings accounts has more than doubled in the last five years while taxpayers have increased spending on these untested programs from $400 million dollars five years ago to $859 million dollars today. Taxpayer-funded voucher schools across the country also lack requirements regarding high educational standards for teachers, discriminate against certain students, and can mandate religious requirements for admission-blurring the lines between separation of church and state.
GAO found many schools they studied requested increased guidance from the Department of Education regarding how federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) should be used when it comes to servicing taxpayer-funded voucher schools. Among the report’s chief recommendations was a significant need for the Department of Education to clarify funding streams, standards, and services offered by taxpayer funded voucher programs to ensure taxpayers are not footing the bill for programs that aren’t benefiting our children.
This study focused on issues around funding and access for all students, including those with disabilities, but future work is still needed on educational outcomes. A fact sheet regarding the GAO’s reports findings can be found here.