COVID Opens Doors to Vouchers

In Colorado, we have starved our public schools for so long by underfunding them ($8 billion+ over the last decade), that when we were hit by something as devastating as this Pandemic, it’s taken every ounce of the innovation, imagination, and determination our school leaders, educators, and staff have to make sure they were meeting the needs of our students.  Those needs would include:

  • Academic/learning needs
  • Technology needs
  • Mental health needs
  • Safety/health needs
    • Covid testing, tracking (tracing) & follow up, masks
  • Nutrition –
    • Functioning as food distribution centers (for students & families)

In states where public school funding is at the top of the nation this has been a difficult task, but in a state such as Colorado where we continue to rank more than $2,000 per pupil below the national average, it’s been a herculean task.

Even though Betsy DeVos has moved on, the imprint she’s left on public education during her time as the U.S. Secretary of Education has opened doors in many states for the privatization of our public education system.  In 2021, Republicans will have full control of the legislative and executive branches in 24 states – many of these states are not wasting any time to capitalize on the frustrations parents feel when public schools aren’t able to operate as they did pre-COVID.

According to Public Funds Public Schools/Education Law Center:

“Recently introduced bills that would undermine public school funding and threaten students’ rights by establishing new voucher programs or expanding existing ones include:

  • In Arizona, SB1452 would dramatically expand eligibility for the state’s existing Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher program, and SB1041 would quadruple the existing cap on the state’s tax credit voucher program.
  • In Arkansas, HB1371 would create an additional voucher program with broader student eligibility criteria than the existing voucher for students with disabilities, funded via tax credits and structured to pay both tuition and other private education expenses.
  • In Florida, SB48 would merge and expand the state’s multiple voucher programs, which already cost upwards of $1 billion per year, and further weaken their dismal accountability requirements.
  • In Georgia, HB60 would establish a new ESA voucher program that would significantly threaten funding for under-resourced public school districts, HB142 would expand the cap on the state’s tax credit voucher program, and SB47 would expand eligibility for the state’s voucher for students with disabilities.
  • In Indiana, HB1005 would expand the income eligibility limit for the state’s existing voucher program and create a new voucher for additional groups of students, including students with disabilities.
  • In Iowa, SB159, which includes several privatization measures, would establish a voucher program to divert already limited public education dollars to private schools.
  • In Kansas, HB2068 / SB61 would broaden the state’s tax credit voucher program, and HB2119 would establish an additional ESA voucher program.
  • In Kentucky, HB149 / SB25 would create a tax credit voucher program that would expand in size each year.
  • In Missouri, omnibus legislation now contained in SB55 would, among other damaging provisions, create a tax credit voucher program budgeted for up to $100 million to fund private education, including homeschooling and for-profit virtual schools.
  • In New Hampshire, HB20 would create an ESA voucher program with practically universal eligibility.
  • In North Carolina, HB32 would expand eligibility for the state’s existing voucher programs as well as increase voucher amounts.

In Colorado, we have our own voucher legislation being proposed in this legislative session – here are two to start with:  

HB21-1080 Nonpublic Education And COVID-19 Relief Act sponsored by House Rep Mark Baisley.

“allows any taxpayer to claim a credit when the taxpayer enrolls a qualified child in a private school…”

Thankfully, this bill didn’t make it out of the House Ed Committee, it was Postponed Indefinitely on Feb 25th.  But Rep Baisley isn’t the only legislator sponsoring legislation to privatize our public schools so far this session.

This bill sponsored by Senator Paul Lundeen, SB21-037, Student Equity Education Funding Programs feels like an attempt to punish public schools and open a pathway to privatization. This falls into the category of now that we’ve successfully starved our public schools of funding and resources, let’s mark them as failures and punish them by redirecting funding to private schools.

SB21-037 is as blatant a voucher bill as they come.  Effective the 2021-2022 school year, It requires schools (school districts and charter schools) that were forced to close one or more schools to in-person instruction for more than 30 days the year prior (which would have been this last 2020-21 school year) to create a funding program that pays parents the state’s share of per pupil revenue for each student.  The parent can then use the state funding to purchase “curriculum for use in a non-public home-based program or purchasing services from an individual or private school.”  (Per the Impact Statement from the Legislative Council

There will be more. They may be disguised as Tax Credits, Scholarships, Grant programs, there’s an endless list of creative titles for them.  Public tax dollars belong in Public Schools.

Let’s just put our efforts and energy into making sure we fund our public schools so ALL children have access to a quality education? We haven’t done a very good job of funding our schools in Colorado for years, and COVID has managed to shine a light on just how poorly a job we’ve done.

“They say, if you want to know what a community values, look at how its children are treated.  If you want a sense of what a community hopes for the future, look at how it values its schools.”