While significant evidence suggests that even with proper implementation, vouchers don’t improve student performance (and sometimes, make it worse), a cautionary tale out of Florida raises even greater concerns. What if a voucher program goes horribly, terribly wrong?
This question seems especially relevant given gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee’s backing of vouchers.
Here’s what the Orlanda Sentinel had to say about a range of problems in that state’s voucher program:
In its “Schools Without Rules” series, Sentinel reporters found voucher (or “scholarship”) schools faking safety reports, hiring felons, hiring high-school dropouts as teachers and operating in second-rate strip malls. They discovered curricula full of falsehoods and subpar lesson plans.
If you confront defenders of this system, be they legislators or school operators, many start mumbling about the virtue of “choice”— as if funding a hot mess of a school is a swell thing, as long parents choose that mess.
Horse hockey. I choose accountability. And transparency. And standards.
I’ve written before about the mess made of schools (and of children’s lives) when voucher schemes go awry:
South Florida Prep received significant funds from the Florida Department of Education under the McKay program. Here’s how that school was run:
Two hundred students were crammed into ever-changing school locations, including a dingy strip-mall space above a liquor store and down the hall from an Asian massage parlor. Eventually, fire marshals and sheriffs condemned the “campus” as unfit for habitation, pushing the student body into transience in church foyers and public parks.
“We had no materials,” says Nicolas Norris, who taught music despite the lack of a single instrument. “There were no teacher edition books. There was no curriculum.”
That’s just one example, of course. The Sentinel series exposes significant problems across a variety of schools. Among the problems were schools closing with little notice, evictions, and teachers without credentials.
Those supporting a voucher-backing candidate for Governor should be very aware of what that policy could mean for Tennessee’s families.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport