News ID: 196744
Published: 0604 GMT July 16, 2017

Trump wants to spend millions more on school vouchers

Trump wants to spend millions more on school vouchers
washingtonpost.com

The US Congress dedicates $15 million a year to a program that helps low-income D.C. students pay tuition at private schools, but it’s impossible for taxpayers to find out where their money goes: The administrator of the D.C. voucher program refuses to say how many students attend each school or how many public dollars they receive.

It’s also not clear how students are performing in each school. When Congress created the program in 2004, it did not require individual private schools to disclose anything about student performance. And private schools can continue receiving voucher dollars no matter how poorly their students fare, according to washingtonpost.com.

President Trump has said the D.C. voucher program is “what winning for young children and kids from all over the country looks like,” and he has freed up millions of dollars in federal funds to expand it, allowing nearly triple the number of students to participate by next school year.

He and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have also pledged to expand private-school choice programs across the country, many of which now make it difficult to track how tax dollars are spent and whether they’re improving student achievement.

For DeVos, who has spent three decades supporting the expansion of state-level voucher programs, it’s more important for parents to have choices than it is for the public to have data.

“Parents know — or can figure out — what learning environment is best for their child, and we must give them the right to choose where that may be,” DeVos said in May.

Every school receiving public money should be held accountable, she said, “but they should be directly accountable to parents and communities, not to Washington, D.C., bureaucrats.”

Of the ten largest private-school choice programs in the nation, at least three do not publish information about how many students are served at each school or how much money those schools receive, according to a Washington Post review.

Seven of the programs either don’t require that voucher students take standardized tests to make it possible to compare their performance with that of peers at public schools, or, if they do, they do not require schools to make those scores public.

And at least eight have no minimum performance requirements, meaning that a school can do exceedingly poorly and continue to receive taxpayer funds.

Asked to comment on whether DeVos views the lack of public information as a problem, Liz Hill, her spokeswoman, wrote that parents don’t need “more data sets, they need more options.”

“A child’s progress — or lack thereof — is fully transparent to his or her parents,” Hill said. “When a robust choice program exists and students are no longer stuck in a mandated system, the ultimate accountability for schools is whether or not parents choose to send their children there.”

The view that parents can hold schools accountable for results is a striking departure from the federal government’s approach over the past 15 years, which — under presidents of both parties — has sought to improve public schools by publicizing test scores and forcing change at those with persistently low achievement.

DeVos has declared that approach a failure for too many struggling students, and her public argument in favor of alternatives to traditional public schools centers on the experiences of individual students whose lives were changed by the opportunity to attend the school of their choice.

   
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