Vouchers were originally a way for parents to avoid having their students attend desegregated schools.
The Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court decision made in 1954, which declared that state laws establishing segregated schools were unconstitutional, caused a reaction across the country that we are still seeing the effects of today.
There have been several different approaches by segregationists to maintain a separate and unequal state of affairs in the United States starting with school vouchers and now with education tax credits and charter schools.
The one commonality of these approaches is to take tax dollars out of state and federal coffers and divert them into private hands by way of private schools, including religious schools, charter schools and online “schools”. These ideas are sold as a promise to help disadvantaged and minority students. This appeals to liberals, neoliberals, racists and even developers, for different reasons.
With these methods, there is also no accountability and a complete lack of public oversight.
This is also a way to destroy the public school system and dismantle the teachers’ unions. For some this is a deliberate motivation as it was with Milton Friedman, and for others, it’s simply a side-effect of the desire to privatize a public good for profit.
Since the introduction of vouchers during the first days of desegregation, other terms have been used and other tactics devised to keep the student population stratified in terms of race and widening the gap between economic and social groups.
The terms you might hear or read about are the following:
Education Savings Accounts / Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) / Universal Savings Account
A voucher provides tax-payer dollars directly to a private school, including charter schools and religious schools, whereas with an ESA, funds are directly deposited into a savings account for the student that can be used for homeschooling, a private school or an online “school”. No academic goals or requirements are demanded of these programs.
The money that would be spent to maintain public schools is then diverted into the coffers of unregulated private enterprises.
Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi have signed onto an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) bill titled THE EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNT ACT sometimes referred to by states as a “universal savings account”.
In Nevada, legal challenges stopped the education savings accounts from being funded, for now.
Not to be deterred by public sentiment and pesky laws, the agenda for the ALEC conference held in July of this year included discussion on The “education Savings Account Act” and the “Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act”.
Tax Credit / Tuition Tax Credit / Scholarship Tax Credit
To this list I am adding a new term, “Neovoucher”, as described in a NPEC policy memo written by Kevin Welner and titled “How to calculate the Cost or Savings of Tax Credit Voucher Policies”.
In the article titled Four Things Betsy DeVos Doesn’t Want You to Know about Education Tax Credits , I wrote:
In a “scholarship tax credit program,” the money bypasses the state and instead goes through a go-between, a “scholarship granting organization” to a private school to pay a student’s tuition in full or in part. Typically, these organizations keep 10 percent of the money as they pass through funds to private schools.
A scholarship granting organization distributes money to students, who are purportedly “low income”, to attend a private school the organization has selected to include in its portfolio. Granting organizations can select the schools they do business with, whether they are religious schools or schools that are unaccredited.
The donations to the scholarship granting organizations are then used as a tax credit to write off the donation and sometimes doubling the credit amount, depleting tax revenue reserves of the state and federal governments.
This is a new way to divert public funds to private enterprises hence the term “Neovoucher”.
Voucher / “Scholarship” / Tuition Grant
Vouchers are a way for a state to directly reimburse a private school for tuition costs.
This concept developed as a reaction to the federal mandate to desegregate schools. States offered to pay for white students to attend inexpensive private schools, referred as “segregation academies” in the early 60’s, and therefore avoid white students attending schools with African Americans.
The vouchers were touted as a way to help poor students attend private schools but that was not really the case because the vouchers were usually less than the full tuition leaving many low income families unable to use the assistance.
Since the inception of these new forms of segregation touted as a way to help the poor and minorities, charter schools, private schools and online schools have profited greatly and the altruistic mask is off now as more entrepreneurs seize upon what they consider a cash cow, our public schools.
The Center for American Progress: The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers
Dissent Magazine: Milton Friedman, Betsy DeVos, and the Privatization of Public Education
The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch: ALEC Admits School Vouchers Are for Kids in Suburbia
The Southern Education Foundation: A failed experiment: Georgia’s Tax Credit Scholarships for Private Schools