V is for VICTORY, not Vouchers
School vouchers are like the zombies of education policy— they keep coming back from the dead to create a public education apocalypse. Vouchers returned in the proposed federal legislation HR 5199 and S. 2517. The resurrections demonstrate that Donald Trump, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and other neoliberals remain committed to privately managed school choice funded by public tax dollars, despite demonstrable evidence of their sordid racial history, opposition from the civil rights community, state constitutional problems, and the proven failure of the approach to help students.
This time, right-wing vouchers supporters tried to use the military in HR 5199 and S. 2517 as a beachhead for the first nationally funded vouchers. The Network for Public Education, a non-profit following this issue, informed members in a call to action that the bills would siphon federal Impact Aid from public school districts to fund an Education Savings Account (ESA) program for military families, to attend private, religious, and for-profit schools.
Notably, The Military Coalition, a consortium of uniformed services and veterans associations representing more than 5.5 million current and former service members and their families, came out strong against the bills and wrote a letter to the sponsors opposing. The Military Coalition saw through the smokescreen and they didn’t support the bills because although the voucher was paltry (about $2,500), the drawing down of the funding would have sabotaged the millions of dollars in Impact Aid funding that offsets lost property tax revenue for school districts when a community has nontaxable federal land such as a military installation. Notably, local school districts that serve 11 million students are receiving impact aid serve the vast majority of military families (80%).
US News reported that The Heritage Foundation lobbied the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to get the voucher bill tucked into the National Defense Authorization Act (the annual budget for the Department of Defense), and that DeVos herself is lobbyied Secretary of Defense James Mattis to get his support.
But it was all for naught!
An expert in DC texted me:
A credible source said the House bill has been dropped from the defense spending package, which was the backdoor being used to enact it. That pretty much kills the bill because it would likely not fare well as a stand-alone bill due to the crowded Congressional calendar and the lack of broad support for it.
One, small, victory.
Given the looming midterm election season where the control of the US House of Representatives will likely swing to Democrats, the coordinated push for vouchers is an all-hands-on-deck effort to claim a victory for school privatization before the window of opportunity closes.
If the bill would have passed, school vouchers would have been available in every state, whether or not state law currently allows them. Clearly these bills are a salvo in a broader approach to redirect the $20 billion in federal tax dollars to privatized and private control school choice schemes that Donald Trump promised during his campaign.
Read more about school vouchers here.
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(some of this blog post was taken verbatim and almost verbatim from a Network For Public Education email action alert)