Editor: On Saturday, Leesburg residents had an opportunity to meet with Del. Randy Minchew and Sen. Jennifer Wexton in a Town Hall meeting at Rust Library. Members of Community Advocates for Education joined our neighbors in expressing concerns about the Parental Choice Education Savings Account bill that has been introduced again by Del. David LaRock and supported by Del. Minchew. I was glad that Del. Minchew reaffirmed a commitment to strong public schools, but also concerned that he insists on a blanket support of “school choice.” We may not be able to afford both.
Vouchers (and their cousins, Education Savings Accounts) will drain money from the public school system, increase segregation in school populations, and risk setting off a chain reaction of white flight and underfunding.
Indiana’s voucher system has cost taxpayers $130 million over the past five years, and the state’s education budget is now in deficit. Pennsylvania and New York are also facing education funding deficits after implementing voucher programs.
Dels. Minchew and LaRock’s bill (HB1605) would allow students of any income level to “opt out” of public schools and receive roughly $2,500-3,600 annually for expense accounts to offset the costs of homeschooling or private school tuition. With an initial price tag of $380K ($330K in subsequent years), our local school district would not only lose state funding, but would also bear all of the administrative cost and burden for this program.
With an average cost of $10K/year for private schools in Virginia (one local private school charges $25K/year) the state-funded expense account would not even come close to covering private school tuition for lower-income families. However, it’s a nice “coupon” for affluent families who can already afford, or almost afford, private school tuition. If the universal voucher program in Nevada is an example, higher income families in better neighborhoods will apply disproportionately for PCESAs. Because race and socioeconomic status are linked, the program, if widely implemented, could lead to the concentration of poor and minority students in public schools, a form of de facto segregation.
When economically advantaged families opt out of public schools, it’s not just the funds that schools lose. We also lose parent volunteers and PTA dollars, further weakening our schools and prompting even more students to leave.
We should be wary of the nationwide PR campaign by choice advocates. Although it sounds like a good thing, and innovative freedom of choice is marketed as the answer to all of the challenges facing education of our young people, decades of study have shown that charter schools, vouchers systems, and online schools do not save tax dollars, and they do not result in better academic outcomes than public schools. However, they do weaken the public school systems and result in increased segregation by race, income and religion.
A strong public school system, like good roads, hospitals, fire departments and capable law enforcement, benefits our community and our economy in many ways. Although charter and private schools, like public schools, can be successful and serve our students well, we must be careful not to place too much faith in the hype surrounding the school choice marketing campaign. It’s an experiment that could prove very costly, not only to the taxpayer but also to our children’s education.
Paula Callaghan, Sharon Hamilton, Jack Lechelt, Linda McCray, Sara Montelone, Nicole Reid, Sherry Wetherill, Community Advocates for Education, Steering Committee