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NEA News

Vouchers Defund Public Schools...Period

Despite the history of school vouchers being rooted in racism, today’s proponents want you to think that privatization actually provides minority students with a better education. Fake news. And NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia explains why.
Published: April 1, 2017

Key Takeaways

  1. Private school vouchers were created during desegregation in order for White parents to avoid sending their children to school with Black students.
  2. These days, voucher supporters want you to think that privatization actually helps minority students gain access to a good education.
  3. The truth is, spelled out by NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia, is that vouchers are widening the dangerous gap between the haves and have nots - leaving the latter in defunded public schools.


Vouchers Defund Public Schools…Period

In the late 1950s through the ’60s, politicians in the Deep South sought to avoid the consequence of <i>Brown v. Board of Education</i>—desegregation of public schools—by any means necessary. Their solution? Using state dollars to fund private “segregation academies” where White parents, fearful of integration, could send their children. 

Sixty years later, proponents of voucher programs that divert money from public schools to private and for-profit charter schools claim vouchers are a way of providing minority students with access to a better education. I bet Harry Houdini would have admired such sleight of hand.  

But we see clearly what they’re doing, and we are calling it out. Vouchers are an attempt to weaken public education by diverting resources to private schools. In this issue of NEA Today, we take a look at the risks vouchers and for-profit charter schools pose to our students, the public schools they attend, and our mission of providing opportunity to every student. 

Today, advocates of vouchers have slapped a brand-new lipstick on this pig. Whatever creative name they come up with, the effect is the same. Voucher programs are state-sanctioned (and if President Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos have their way, nationally sanctioned) programs to defund public schools.  

For many of the groups that have been backing vouchers for decades, it’s more about their free-market ideology, where competition in all sectors determines winners and losers, than it is about students. After all, any good reformer who is motivated by student success would start by looking at what is happening in our best public schools and compare it to what is happening in our struggling schools. The answer is simple: In our best schools, there are resources, programs, student supports, and services. We provide this for some children. The moral question before us is whether or not we will provide the same for all children. And if this is the goal, vouchers are not the answer. 

If voucher advocates truly wanted to provide all students with access to a great education, they would want public schools in every community to have the ability to offer the support and tools that our best schools offer. This would mean opposing programs that divert public money to private schools—schools that not only are unaccountable to the public, but pick and choose their students.  

The truth is that when it comes to providing real opportunity to students, regardless of who they are, where they live, what religious or spiritual beliefs they hold, what language they speak, or how much—or how little—their families have, public schools welcome all comers. That’s not a mission private and religious schools are obligated to uphold. But it is one we are proud to embrace.


National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.