Senator Kerr on HCR610

We have an editorial from a guest writer, Senator Andy Kerr, that we want to share with you regarding House Bill 610. We appreciate that Senator Kerr always collaborates with stakeholders and is always willing to have difficult conversations. Senator Kerr truly is a man we can depend on to Support Jeffco Kids and Colorado kids.

We ask you to read this and share it with others so they understand the impacts to our children! Thank you, Senator Andy Kerr!

In January, Representative Steve King of Iowa proposed a bill (HCR 610) that could shift federal funding – to the tune of $20 billion – away from programs like Title I to block grants to states. Each state would, in turn, disburse those funds to families to pay for their children’s tuition at private or parochial schools.

We need to ask ourselves, who really benefits?

Will low-income families benefit? How about kids with special needs? Will our neighborhood public schools benefit? What might be the cost to taxpayers? These are important questions to ask as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos works with Congress to privatize public education by throwing the weight of the federal government behind school vouchers.

What does this mean for our students, families and schools in Colorado?

And, how does it impact our efforts to bring equity and quality to public schools in Colorado?

Will our neighborhood schools benefit?

HR610 will worsen the trend of shifting already meager resources away from school districts to other options. Colorado already ranks near the bottom when it comes to funding our public K-12 schools.

The notion that vouchers will solve all of our problems in education is unfounded – there is little data to show any significant difference in terms of academic achievement, when comparing like groups of students. So why dump money into privatization efforts when we don’t have evidence based data to show that private or parochial schools are doing better than public neighborhood schools? Instead of vouchers, we should be increasing support for children who are attending their neighborhood schools.

 What might be the cost to taxpayers?

Voucher proponents argue that this legislation, if passed, would actually save money, because the voucher would only be 90% of per pupil funding of a child’s public school enrollment. (We’ve already heard this argument many times by some legislators here in Colorado who have supported bills to provide vouchers, tax-credits, and “scholarships”).

The truth is, when federal funds leave public schools for private or parochial schools, school districts will have less funding, but no change in the number of school buildings, classrooms or teachers they require. Additionally, they will be on the hook for all of the expensive services that many private or parochial schools cannot or will not provide. And that means charging parents for buses, or increasing school fees, or charging more for athletics, as a way to supplant the federal government’s share. (Due to our lack of funding, many school districts, like Jeffco, already do this – how much more can public schools ask of their parents?)

Taxpayers in Colorado would be asked for continuous mill levy overrides, expected to foot the bill from their property taxes. And the state would be forced to cut spending on roads, Medicare, and other vital services to make up for the federally-induced shortfall. Taxpayers would also bear the brunt of this ill-advised legislation.

Will low-income families benefit?

There is no guarantee that low-income families with children in struggling public schools would benefit from this massive cash giveaway. Unlike their wealthier peers, low-income students might lack transportation to faraway private schools, or go without meals if they make it to school.

Some studies have shown a decrease in academic performance when low-income students left their public schools for private or parochial schools. And, in states like Indiana, studies have found that the beneficiaries of vouchers are families who already were sending their children to private or parochial schools. Hence, the bulk of low-income families never utilized the voucher program, primarily because vouchers were never intended for them.

How about our kids with special needs?

We already struggle with charter schools’ accountability for educating students with special needs – HCR 610 offers no means of holding private or parochial schools accountable for accepting students with learning disabilities or who need specialized services such as an aide for a visually-impaired student or bilingual programs for children who possess limited English. There’s a higher cost associated with providing these programs and addressing these needs. Our public schools do this – often struggling financially in the process.

In my opinion, it would be difficult to make an argument to support the voucher system proposed by HCR610. There’s no accountability required of the private institutions receiving our taxpayer dollars and it only serves to drain funding for our already financially strapped public schools. It would only do more harm than good to our Colorado students, families and public schools.

Over my years as Colorado House Representative and Senator serving my Jeffco community, and as an educator by trade, I’ve worked hard to bring equity and quality to public schools in Colorado. Funding public schools and making sure we have a reasonable accountability system have been a priority. As a parent myself with children in Jeffco Public Schools, and as a taxpayer, I have as much at stake as most of you.