This week, so-called National School Choice Week, many pro-voucher groups are trying to argue that vouchers are good for our schools. This “school choice” language promises parents improved results while failing to mention the serious civil rights problems with vouchers. I have seen this firsthand in Michigan and know that we can have success fighting back against voucher schemes if we remain vigilant.
In September 2011, I testified before the Michigan Senate Education Committee in Lansing on a package of education reform bills. One of the bills, S. 621, would have weakened Michigan’s public schools by creating a private school voucher system. This would have diverted public funds to private and religious schools and away from the public schools that desperately need those resources. In my testimony, I told the committee why I opposed the voucher proposal.
I said that requiring financially stressed districts to bear the burden of educating private school students, taking desperately needed funds away from the public schools, would be bad public policy and would hurt students. School voucher programs also funnel taxpayer money to private schools that do not have to follow civil rights laws such as Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my tax dollars going to a school that doesn’t have to obey Title IX.
I had the honor of testifying alongside several education experts, whom I was then able to recruit for AAUW of Michigan’s efforts to educate people about this bad legislation. Although we were able to modify the proposed voucher legislation, there are still threats to Michigan’s public schools.
AAUW believes a strong, free public education system is the foundation of a democratic society, and we have long opposed diverting public funds to private or religious elementary and secondary schools. As long ago as 1937, the AAUW legislative program called for “free public instruction of high quality available to all, since popular education is the basis for freedom and justice” and in 1955 stated that “universal education is basic to the preservation of our form of government and to the well-being of our society.”
AAUW of Michigan is working with coalition partners all over the state to oppose these voucher proposals. The fight to protect our children’s right to a quality public education is far from over.
This post was written by AAUW of Michigan Public Policy Director Barbara Bonsignore.