Corporate Reform District of Columbia Failure Mike Pence School Choice Vouchers

Why the D.C. Voucher Program Is Failing

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Thomas Toch and Phyllis W. Jordan write here about the failure of the D.C. voucher program, which has been hailed by the Trump administration as a great success. As they explain, it is not.

Mike Pence called it “a case study in school choice success.”

Far from it.

As the authors point out, significant numbers of families have turned down vouchers or abandoned their voucher school. Many students struggle academically.

“The theory behind the initiative is to give D.C.’s low-income families more and better educational opportunities by supplying them with tax dollars to send their children to private schools. Fine. But voucher enrollment in the nation’s capital dropped for four straight years, from 1,638 in the 2013-2014 school year to 1,154 in the 2016-2017 year. More striking, greater than half the new students offered vouchers last year didn’t use them…

“Low-income parents unfamiliar with the private school landscape must navigate each school’s admissions system separately. Students are awarded vouchers after many private schools have finished their admissions processes. And voucher winners must meet the admissions standards of the schools to which they apply. In this sense, the 47 schools participating in the program are choosing students, rather than the other way around…

“While federal law lacks accountability for schools, it calls for independent assessments of student progress. Between 2012 and 2014, federal researchers tested three sample cohorts of D.C. students in the year after receiving vouchers. Those who won vouchers did worse in math in their first year than students who competed in the voucher lottery but did not receive them.

“Perhaps that’s not surprising, given that nearly half the students in the program attend private schools that sprung up to serve voucher students, sometimes in storefronts, according to a 2013 report by the federal government. About 3 percent were enrolled in independent schools such as Sidwell Friends and Georgetown Day. Most of the rest attended Catholic schools, though few went to the most competitive Catholic schools, such as St. Anselm’s Abbey School.”

Toch and Jordan support charter schools, so believe that the voucher program pales in comparison to the charter and public sectors.

Some of us don’t believe that school choice is the solution to the problems of urban districts. It may in reality be a false solution, since both charters and vouchers choose their students and operate under laxer supervision than the public schools.

Nonetheless it is good to be reminded that the Trump administration’s education agenda of choice-choice-choice is a shell game.

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