Whether they are being proposed by President Trump or Governor Hogan, vouchers are a failed shell game that shifts taxpayer dollars from public to private schools. When we have billions in unmet needs in our public schools, any dollar dedicated to private schools—whether it’s $5 million, $10 million, or one dollar—keeps us from meeting those needs. The failed BOOST voucher program should be eliminated.
Different voucher plans have been introduced in various forms since 2006 in the face of broad opposition, including from MSEA, the NAACP, League of Women Voters, Maryland PTA, Maryland Association of Boards of Education, and others. In 2016, Gov. Hogan included $5 million for the BOOST voucher program in his budget. An overwhelming majority of those taxpayer dollars—78%—were then distributed to families whose children already were enrolled in private schools.
We can’t afford to fund two different school systems—public taxpayer dollars should be spent improving our public schools, not subsidizing expensive private schools. Yet Gov. Hogan proposed doubling funding for vouchers in his 2017 budget, the same incremental expansion tactic used by governors like Mike Pence in Indiana and Jeb Bush in Florida. Indiana’s program now costs $131 million and Florida’s costs $358 million. Arizona’s program started at $4.5 million in 1997 and now tops $140 million. We must make sure that Maryland doesn’t also walk down this wasteful, unproductive path. While the General Assembly cut about 75% of Gov. Hogan’s increase in vouchers funding in 2017, the program still remains and Gov. Hogan was able to incrementally increase its funding again in his 2018 budget. Click here to learn more about what’s at stake and how voucher programs have consistently failed (while skyrocketing in cost) in other states.
Research in Arizona, Illinois, Georgia, and Pennsylvania shows that a majority of students receiving the tax credit benefit already attend private schools and that the programs have pushed private school tuition up. A RAND Corporation study concluded that tuition tax credits rarely benefit poor children.
The private school advocates’ argument that voucher programs help low-income students escape failing public schools is not accurate. The facts show that such programs overwhelmingly help students already in private school, and for the small minority of those who do move from public schools, their academic performance usually drops.
According to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, 78% of students receiving vouchers through the BOOST program were already enrolled in private school. This follows trends from similar program all over the country—including Indiana, Georgia, and Arizona.
Study after study shows voucher programs fail to boost the academic achievement of participants — and often make it worse. Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction shows that students who participated in our country’s original voucher program in Milwaukee performed worse than or about the same as students in Milwaukee Public Schools in math. Even researchers at Notre Dame found in their study that students who switched from public schools to Catholic schools actually did worse in math. These studies, and many more like them, are the reason why The Brookings Institution now says, “Our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate.”
Private school voucher programs do not help low-income students escape failing public schools. All that these programs do is subsidize expensive private school tuition revenue with scarce public taxpayer dollars.
Additionally, private schools that would benefit from a tuition tax credit program are not accountable to the public in the way that public schools are for teacher quality, student achievement, attendance, entrance policies, graduation and dropout rates, and other relevant criteria.
In 2003, MSEA worked closely with the General Assembly to enact the Public Charter School Act. The bill created Maryland’s first public charter school program “to establish an alternative means within the existing public school system in order to provide innovative learning opportunities and creative educational approaches to improve the education of students.”
We believe that charter schools must meet the following criteria.
In fact, because of these criteria and strong vigilance in the review of each proposed Maryland charter school, the success rate of those approved is much higher than in many other states. MSEA believes that charter schools and other nontraditional public school options have the potential to facilitate education reforms and develop new and creative teaching methods that can benefit children. However, we believe success depends on how charter schools are designed and implemented, including strong oversight and assistance provided to charter school leaders. For background on what makes Maryland’s charter school law strong, read our 2013 white paper, “Protecting Maryland’s Charter School Law.”
While we support Maryland’s charter schools and are open to further strengthening our already strong law, many of Gov. Hogan’s 2015 proposals were extreme, counterproductive ideas that would have lowered the state’s high standards for quality, accountability, and equity. Maryland’s high standards have supported a number of successful charter schools while avoiding the pitfalls experienced by states with lower standards. By the metrics of fostering accountability, fiscal responsibility, and educational quality, Maryland’s charter school law has proven to be one of the strongest in the country. Unfortunately, Gov. Hogan’s 2015 legislation went much too far and risked breaking the balance we have in Maryland now by:
Due to the advocacy of public school educators, including many charter school teachers, the legislature removed the harmful provisions of Gov. Hogan’s legislation and instead amended it to make our charter school law even stronger. New provisions included:
In 2017, Gov. Hogan doubled down on the counterproductive ideas in his 2015 legislation, re-introducing many of them and compounding them with more misguided ideas, like giving charter schools more funding than traditional public schools and setting up the type of parallel system for charter schools (with lower levels of accountability and standards) that have caused bad outcomes for students and millions of dollars in the fraud, waste, and abuse of taxpayer dollars in other states with similar structures. Click here to learn more about Gov. Hogan’s 2017 charter schools bill. The bill was defeated in the General Assembly. We continue to urge Gov. Hogan and his state board of education to focus on improving all of our public schools instead of mistakenly treating charter schools like a silver bullet solution.
Q: Why does MSEA insist that charter schools admit all students?
A: All public schools are obligated to provide access to students regardless of their ability, special needs, parental involvement, etc. Charter schools should not be treated differently if they are to share financial resources. It would be unfair to expect the existing public schools to handle a disproportionate number of students with special needs and allow charter schools to pick and choose which students they will accept.
Q: Why does MSEA oppose private charter schools?
A: A school should have one goal—to provide the best possible education for the students. Private firms owe their first allegiance to the bottom line or making a profit for their investors. We believe that student welfare should never be competing with a company’s need to make a profit. We also believe that there should be adequate safeguards covering contract and employment provisions. That might not be possible in a private charter school run by a for-profit corporation.
Q: How does student achievement compare between charter and other schools?
A: Major studies of charter schools, including Stanford University’s 2013 Center for Research on Educational Outcomes study, find that while there are some exceptional charter schools, on the whole traditional public schools outperform charter schools. Learn more by reading this Washington Post recap of the Stanford study, “Charters not outperforming traditional public schools, report says.” Similar results have been found in Maryland.
Learn more about charter schools across the country.