When Privatization Means Segregation: Setting the Record Straight on School Vouchers

Source: Leo Casey, Dissent, August 9, 2017

In recent weeks, the issue of private school vouchers has taken center stage in debates over the future of American education. Policy proposals to use public funds for private school tuition vouchers have a long history, dating back to a seminal 1955 essay by Milton Friedman. Over the last twenty-five years, small voucher programs have been established in several states, including Indiana, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as in Washington, D.C. … Public education advocates have taken on the Trump-DeVos push for vouchers. The liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) issued two important research briefs, Vouchers Are Not A Viable Solution For Wide Swaths of America and The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers. In her keynote speech to the American Federation of Teachers’ recent biannual education conference and in her Huffington Postcolumn, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten addressed the “past and present” of school vouchers, condemning such programs as “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.” Both CAP and Weingarten highlighted events around one of the five school desegregation cases that were rolled into the Supreme Court’s historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County.

… In the wake of the CAP reports and Randi Weingarten’s speech, voucher advocates were compelled to respond. Three lines of defense have emerged to dismiss the historic connection between private school vouchers and racial segregation. They are as unconvincing as the original arguments. … Try as privatization advocates might, there is no getting around the segregationist history of school vouchers in the United States. From Milton Friedman to the recalcitrant white elites of Prince Edward County and the legislators they voted in, the forerunners of today’s “school choice” movement understood their freedom as the freedom to deny others an equal education. That history continues into the present: empirical studies of vouchers programs in the United States and internationally show that they increase segregation in schools. As a Trump administration that openly appeals to white racial resentment proposes a massive school voucher program, we would be foolish to ignore the policy’s origins.


The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers
Source: Chris Ford, Stephenie Johnson, and Lisette Partelow, Center for American Progress, July 12, 2017

… Voucher schemes—such as those backed by President Trump and Secretary DeVos—are fundamentally positioned to funnel taxpayers’ dollars into private schools while draining much-needed resources from public schools and the vulnerable students who attend them. Policymakers must consider the origins of vouchers and their impact on segregation and support for public education. No matter how well intentioned, widespread voucher programs risk exacerbating segregation in schools and leaving the most vulnerable students and the public schools they attend behind.