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When public education is sub-contracted to private schools…is this really what we want?

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Today’s New York Times features the Georgia tax credit-funded voucher program in a piece called, “Backed by State Money, Georgia Scholarships Go To Schools Barring Gays.”  It’s based on a report done by Steve Suitts of the Southern Education Foundation.  (Steve did a very important study that the Times and we wrote about last spring identifying problems with the Georgia voucher program.)

The new report documents that voucher schools discriminating against gays:

“We are circumventing our own public policy with public money,” said State Representative Stacey Abrams, the leader of the Democratic minority in the House. “In our public schools, we do not disallow a child from attending on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

But the larger problem, which the Georgia program shares with its sister program in New Hampshire, is a general lack of accountability.  While public schools are held to high standards, private schools supported with state money are held to no standards.  As a result, they may practice discrimination as documented in this new report or they may have poor academic standards and teach creationist curricula, as many Georgia and New Hampshire Christian schools do.

The schools vigorously defend their independence:

“You can be a Jewish school. You can be a Muslim school. It’s the same as a Catholic school or if I wanted to go to an all-girls school or a homosexual school,” said Claudia Hunt, who runs admissions for the Providence Christian Academy, a kindergarten-through-12th-grade school in Lilburn[GA].

“That is why we are independent schools,” she said. “We all have different missions.”

Georgia-Backed Scholarships Benefit Schools Barring Gays – NYTimes.com

Of course, the problem isn’t the mission, it’s asking for public money to pay for it.


6 Comments

  1. wgersen says:

    Worse yet, since they don’t have to follow state regulations or federal regulations, their students can be suspended and/or expelled for accumulations of petty offenses. Diane Ravitch’s blog has examples of this in describing the “No Excuses” approach advocated by many for-profit charters.

  2. Leah Wolczko says:

    The accountability comes from the students and parents. Why do you not trust people to even know if they are learning? Why do you always feel the need to have govt. to tell us if something is working or not? I believe in people, myself. And I was a teacher in NH public schools for 5 years. Any government public service that must be enforced through coercion is not a public service in any way that the word has meaning. Schools are the only govt. service that we are not only forced to pay for, but forced to consume. Tells us all we need to know about it.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      Yes, Leah, parents and the kids themselves can always hold their public and private schools accountable by voting with their feet. They get to use their own criteria, which could be the student’s enjoyment of the school, her perceived progress, the quality of the religious instruction – or the convenience of getting there in the morning. This form of accountability may be sufficient for the family and the family gets to bear the consequences of their judgments.

      But accountability for public funds is a whole other matter. For that purpose, the taxpayers should be assured that the education provided by schools receiving public money meets some standards. The school should be able to demonstrate to the taxpayers who are paying the bills that they have qualified teachers and are preparing the kids for work or college. The schools should not be able to make new public policy by using public money to discriminate based on religion, skin color or sexual orientation. They should not use public money to teach that dinosaurs and people roamed the earth at the same time.

      So while families can make some of those choices with their own funds and the futures, the taxpayers should not be asked to grant the families the individual right to spend taxpayer money in any way they want. If schools want to play a role in the state’s responsibility for delivering a quality education to its children, then they should step up to the same accountability we require of the rest of our public schools.

      • I’m curious to know, Bill, why you persist in believing that the voluntary private donations made under tax credit programs are government money, when the courts have repeatedly explained that they are not. Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court in ACSTO v. Winn, and prior to that the AZ Supreme Court in Kotterman v. Killian.
        If the purpose of this website is to educate the public on education policy, it would help if you were more generous in sharing the facts with your readers:
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-coulson/a-winn-for-education-and-_b_848035.html

        • Bill Duncan says:

          I know you know better, Andrew. If you did not fund these vouchers with public money in the form of tax credits, they would not exist. That’s why the state must budget for the tax expenditures. The fact the the courts must recognize that, for certain purposes, the advocates have succeeded in laundering the tax subsidy through an elaborate mechanism does not change anything.

          You will see that the NH Supreme Court will get it right, as they have in the past, and will continue to recognize this legerdemain for what it is.

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