Opinion: The devastating impact vouchers have had on Arizona, Florida local public schools

Rogelio V. Solis/ AP file

Rogelio V. Solis/ AP file Rogelio V. Solis/ AP file

By DAMARIS ALLEN and BETH LEWIS

Published: 04-10-2024 4:15 PM

Damaris Allen is the executive director of Families for Strong Public Schools, a Florida public school graduate, and a parent of public school children. Beth Lewis is the executive director of Save Our Schools Arizona, an Arizona educator, and a parent of public school children.

As parents from Florida and Arizona, we have seen the devastating impact of publicly funded school vouchers and want to offer a gloomy cautionary tale so that you can understand why legislative proposals to expand voucher programs in New Hampshire would be a terrible idea.

Arizona and Florida have the dubious distinction of being considered “#1 in school choice” by the dark money special interests that have spent millions to push vouchers in our states. This means our public schools are underfunded in service of private school vouchers. Rural students and low-income families have fewer quality choices, while richer suburban families use vouchers as a coupon for the private education they were already paying for. This is tens of millions of taxpayer dollars being spent with no accountability, no transparency and no return on investment.

Arizona is now reeling from the impacts of universal vouchers, which are siphoning nearly $1 billion out of our local public schools this year. School districts are forced to make horrific decisions between shutting down schools, laying off hundreds of teachers, slashing bus routes or firing counselors or social workers. Arizona class sizes are growing exponentially, while our buildings and buses fall into disrepair. Just this past month, our attorney general announced major cases of fraud, in which hundreds of thousands of dollars were stolen from the voucher program.

Florida spends over $4 billion of taxpayer money annually on private schools. More than 65 percent are not accredited, requiring parents to check with their students’ prospective colleges to ensure their diplomas will even be accepted. In Florida, homeschool families who receive vouchers are free to purchase large-screen TVs, paddleboards, vacations and other extravagant items, while public schools don’t have basic school supplies, such as paper and pencils. To reduce costs, our traditional public schools have class sizes bursting at the seams, fewer enrichment programs and limited access to accelerated courses.

This is happening in Florida and Arizona, and it’s no different in New Hampshire. Voucher lobbyists are solely interested in forcing through publicly funded vouchers to eventually dismantle the public school system and privatize all schools. They like to start small, with targeted programs for low-income students, but once the voucher door has opened, it’s almost impossible to close, and millions will be spent to inch it ever wider each year. That’s what’s happening in New Hampshire now, with several bills to expand vouchers. The New Hampshire voucher law specifically protects the right of schools to reject students who do not fit their mission but offers no protection to students against discrimination, even though taxpayer money is being used to pay for the vouchers.

New Hampshire does not fully fund, or even adequately fund, its public schools. That has been shown through more than 30 years’ worth of court cases, including the ConVal case that shows the state is shortchanging public school students by more than $500 million every year, and local property taxpayers are saddled with the burden of making up the difference. If New Hampshire focused on fairly funding public schools rather than draining the Education Trust Fund to pay for vouchers, the state could brag about providing a great public education to all students and ease the dependence on local property taxpayers.

Let our states’ unfortunate experience with vouchers be a red flag for the Granite State. Don’t be hoodwinked by slick marketing. Unaccountable voucher schemes are not academically or financially viable. Don’t let lawmakers expand your voucher program. It would be a big mistake for New Hampshire students and their families. Keep the promise of public education; we promise New Hampshire families will be better off.

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