Bill Lee, the newly elected Republican Governor of Tennessee, and long time construction company CEO, recently spoke about education policy on a podcast, and stated his willingness to sign a law that would siphon away taxpayer money from public schools so that the money can be used for private schools instead:
Gov.-elect Bill Lee said Monday he is open to promoting a school voucher program as part of his upcoming legislative agenda and committed himself to being an advocate for school choice in Tennessee.
Lee spoke about vouchers — a controversial measure — along with criminal justice reform, immigration policy and other topics Monday during an appearance on the Grand Divisions, the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee’s policy and politics podcast.
“The specifics about education proposals, we haven’t gotten there yet, but I am an advocate for choice, and I think you’ll see going forward that I will advocate for parents to have choices,” Lee said.
School vouchers, which so far have failed to gain adequate support in the Tennessee General Assembly, rely on publicly funded scholarships to send students to private schools.
Make no mistake, instituting a voucher system that uses taxpayer money is simply a way for private schools to be able to extract profit from taxpayers. It does not improve education outcomes for students. But, student outcomes aren’t really the point of vouchers, anyway. The point is profit.
Among those who profit from taxpayer money being siphoned away to private schools are construction companies who receive contracts to build and expand private schools, construction companies like Lee Company, which is the company the newly elected Republican Governor of Tennessee ran for the last 24 years:
Lee Company is working with Bell &Associates on construction of the new Central High School. “Not everybody can do a project of that type and we can,” Perko said.
If Tennessee were to institute a voucher program, there is certainly a good chance that many new private schools will sprout up to take advantage of the inflows of Tennessee taxpayer money. And the Republican Governor of Tennessee’s construction company will surely be available to win some contracts to build those schools.
Back to the student outcome side of this issue: Milwaukee, Wisconsin has had a voucher system in place for nearly 30 years, and the results have not been good:
Research in Wisconsin and other states consistently shows little to no voucher school advantage, and in fact often documents significant ill-effects on students including: school closings, high rates of student attrition for lower-performing students, and decreased assessment scores in math and reading. There is little evidence to substantiate the expansion of private voucher schools on the grounds that they are intended to help student achievement.
Besides not producing better outcomes for students, private schools that have been setup to take advantage of Milwaukee’s voucher program have ended up closing at an alarming rate:
Forty-one percent of all private schools that participated in the Milwaukee private school voucher program between 1991 and 2015 failed, according to a new study by a voucher school proponent who said he was stunned by the findings.
“I do not mean failed as in they did not deliver academically, I mean failed as in they no longer exist,” University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Professor Michael Ford wrote. “These 102 schools either closed after having their voucher revenue cut off by the Department of Public Instruction, or simply shut their doors. The failure rate for entrepreneurial start-up schools is even worse: 67.8 percent.”
Ford is a former vice president of School Choice Wisconsin.
In a summary of his study, he concludes:
“The larger, perhaps more troubling legacy of the first 25 years of the Milwaukee voucher experience is the problem of externalities…When a school closes, students and parents must find new schools, student records may be lost, student achievement will likely suffer, and the public investment in failed institutions is lost.”
When a private school closes, the students are left scrambling to find a new school. Their lives are disrupted. The people running the private school, though? Well, they got their money, taxpayer money, then ran.
Just nine days into the school year, a Milwaukee voucher school abruptly shut down, drawing renewed criticism from opponents of efforts to privatize Wisconsin’s K–12 public school system.
Daughters of the Father Christian Academy, 1877 N. 24th Place, says it closed voluntarily, but the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction had cited it for multiple problems and tried to remove it from the state’s Parental Choice Program over the summer. The school maintains a website that still features an enrollment tab.
…By most measures, the school appeared doomed from the start. It managed to achieve accreditation, beginning in the 2007–08 school year, despite a number of red flags that Fox 6 news uncovered during an investigation in May. Those included the revelation that school founder Bishop Doris Pinkney had filed for bankruptcy three times since 1995 and did not have a teaching credential. The school’s application was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.
Fox 6 launched the probe after parents of students at the academy complained the school abruptly ceased providing bus service to students in middle of the last academic year due to financial mismanagement. Pinkney acknowledged to a bankruptcy court that she was earning $132,000 annually.
This type of thing has also happened in Michigan, home of perhaps the country’s biggest cheerleader for privatizing education: Betsy Devos.
Betsy DeVos and Michigan Republicans have relentlessly pushed a baseless theory that private schools governed by free market competition, instead of governmental oversight, would magically lead to better outcomes. In doing so, they have instituted one of the most privatized and least regulated school systems in the country.
Less than a month into this school year, 200 Michigan students were exposed to a vivid example of why having private charter schools governed by free market principles doesn’t work. The school these 200 students were attending, presumably for at least this full year, abruptly shut down, leaving the students and their families scrambling to find another school to attend.
Less than a month into the school year, a Detroit charter school is shutting its doors — leaving nearly 200 students and their parents in the lurch.
Saturday is supposed to be the school’s homecoming. It’s unclear whether it’ll still happen, said King, who is upset because she believes the school should have given parents a heads-up that this might happen.
Why did the school shut down? Because not enough students enrolled, and because the the lower than expected enrollment would mean the free market motive of profit would not be realized:
The board had adopted a budget that counted on an enrollment of 265 students. Far fewer — 203 — were enrolled. And even fewer — 180 — were showing up on a daily basis, he said.
“They weren’t certain they were going to be able to be financially viable throughout the year,” Rizzo said.
Years of evidence from Michigan has shown that this theory of free market competition for schools leading to better outcomes has simply not been supported by reality.
The lack of regulation had the desired effect: Michigan became a boom state for a growing new education sector. By 2000, Michigan had 184 charter schools, by Miron’s count, more than any state but Arizona and California. In a 2002 book that Miron wrote with Christopher Nelson called “What’s Public About Charter Schools?” the authors consider two different charter models deployed by states: competitive and collaborative. While the collaborative approach encouraged the public and private sectors to “share innovations,” Michigan favored the other approach: “Engler wanted to lift public schools,” Miron told me, “but he believed in getting as much competition as quickly as possible. It became the Wild West state: Push, push, push.” While other states — Miron cited Ohio, Texas and Arizona — also emerged as exemplars of the “competitive” model, most have since reintroduced some regulation. “Michigan is still an outlier,” Miron said. “No state comes near us when it comes to privatization.”
Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse. In little more than a decade, Michigan has gone from being a fairly average state in elementary reading and math achievement to the bottom 10 states. It’s a devastating fall. Indeed, new national assessment data suggest Michigan is witnessing systemic decline across the K-12 spectrum. White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income — it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live. …
And in 2018, results for Michigan students are continuing to get worse:
August 29, 2018 – Just 44 percent of the students in grades 3-8 who took the English language arts portion of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) passed the exam.
That’s down from nearly 48 percent in 2015 — the first year the M-STEP was given — and marks the fourth year in a row more than half of the students weren’t proficient.
The news across the board wasn’t pretty:
- In math, 37.4 percent of the students in grades 3-8 were proficient, up from 37 percent in 2015.
- In social studies, 23.8 percent of students in grades 3-8 were proficient, down from 26 percent in 2015.
- On the SAT — the college entrance exam taken by 11th graders — 36.9 percent of students met the benchmark for being considered college- and career-ready in math, while 57.8 percent met that standard in reading and writing. That compares to 2016, where the numbers were 36.8 percent in math and 60.1 percent in reading and writing.
- The total average SAT score was 1000.1, out of a possible score of 1600. In 2016, the first year the SAT became part of the high school exam, the total average score was 1000.8.
- On a separate high school social studies exam, the percentage of students who were proficient was 48.5 percent, up from 43.9 percent.
The sooner we rid our country of these school choice and for-profit charter school advocates, and their lies about free-market competition, the better. Our children are depending on us.