Vouchers offer no solution to achievement gaps

Private schools not held to same standards as public schools

Better Ed billboard as of October 2014
Better Ed billboard as of October 2014

Fifth in a multi-part series

Over the past few weeks, the MSR has published a series of articles focusing on an organization called Better Ed, which has launched a campaign highlighting the shortcomings of Minneapolis and St. Paul Public schools. They promote “school choice” as a solution. The MSR recently asked both the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) for comment on several proposals by Better Ed. Following is the response submitted to us by SPPS officials.

 

MSR: What would be the consequences for public schools accepting Better Ed’s proposal to offer Twin Cities parents a voucher that they can use to pay for the school of their choice, whether charter, parochial or private? Would students be better off?

SPPS: We are not sure what Better Ed means by “better off,” but there are considerable challenges with voucher programs for both families and public school districts. Vouchers typically do not cover the full cost of tuition at many private schools, nor are private schools obligated to provide services for students with disabilities and language needs as mandated in public schools. Vouchers funnel needed resources away from public schools that are legally required to serve all students to parochial and private schools not required to do so.

Parents have a considerable amount of public school choice within SPPS through our Strong Schools, Strong Communities programs and pathways, as well as outside of the district and across the state through Minnesota’s open enrollment law.

MSR: Better Ed says that they estimate MPS and SPPS receive between $14,000 and $21,000 per student per year. Are these estimates accurate and fair?

SPPS: The average per-pupil funding presented by Better Ed does not adequately represent the many facets of public school funding. Many factors determine an individual student’s per-pupil allocation amount. This can vary due to [the] demographics of each student.

For example, you could have a special education student receive Spec Ed services, but also Multi-Lingual Learning and qualify for Compensatory Education. [Compensation Education or “Comp Ed” is defined as “supplementary programs or services” to help at risk students or students with disabilities, usually funded with money from the State.] Each student brings in different revenue sources, and the range of per-pupil funding can be from $5,800 to over $20,000. [Based on Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) reporting of SPPS 2013-14 fiscal year expenditures, the average per-pupil amount spent was $14,302.]

MSR: What about those students receiving special education services?

SPPS: Parochial and private schools are not obligated to provide services for students with disabilities and language needs as mandated in public schools. Therefore, students in need of significant additional supports may not be able to receive those in non-public environments.

MSR: Why do you suppose Better Ed seemingly focuses its campaign on the metro area and Black student achievement? Is the group’s intention to encourage Black parents to abandon public schools?

SPPS: We cannot speak to the motives of Better Ed. However, the suggestion that vouchers are a panacea for pervasive achievement gaps across the state of Minnesota is misleading at best. Throughout the state, achievement between students of color and their White peers have been seen in public and private and parochial schools. All sectors of education must accelerate its efforts to increase achievement for all students while eliminating racial disparities in achievement.

MSR: What do you think is most important for Black parents to know about Better Ed’s claim that school choice would improve their kids’ education?

SPPS: Fundamentally every parent must choose the environment that is best for their child. As outlined above, vouchers are not a panacea as non-public schools also have challenges with achievement gaps.

However, SPPS is committed to accelerating learning for all students and eliminating predictable racial disparities in achievement. We serve a diverse student body. We welcome and respect the racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds of all our learners and we aim to meet the unique learning styles and needs of all our students.

Finally, it’s worth noting that private and parochial schools aren’t held to the same standard by the state as public schools are. Even charters, which are public schools, are exempt from some of the requirements that traditional public schools have to meet.

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

 

Read more in the series on Better Ed:

First installment: Public schools foe Better Ed campaigns for school choice

Second installment: Better Ed: People want out of public schools

Third installment: Better Ed: Let parents choose the best schools — and cultures — for their child

Fourth installment: MPS: School choice will not close achievement gap

About Charles Hallman

Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at challman@spokesman-recorder.com

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