The following is excerpted from testimony delivered by Senator Carol
Moseley-Braun (D-III.) before the House Committee on Education and the
Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families.
The question of what to do to increase the access of all American
children to a quality education is one of the most important issues
facing Congress and the nation today.
Some of my colleagues believe that one part of the solution is to
use public funds to help defray the cost of sending children to private
schools. I could not disagree more strongly. A voucher proposal
presumes that a market-based solution will solve the problems that
exist within our public education system, But by definition, markets
have winners and losers, and our country cannot afford any losers in a
game of educational roulette.
Education is about more than individuals. It is a public good as
well. Quality public schools have shaped our democracy, created our
strong middle class, and propelled us to the top of the world’s
economic pyramid. Public schools are the glue that has held our society
Vouchers are about putting individuals over communities. The reason
we have compulsory education in this country is not so that every child
can access the best education his or her parents can find, but so that
all our children can receive a quality education. If our public schools
are not all meeting that challenge, then it is our responsibility to
fix them. A federally funded voucher program would not fix a single
Vouchers necessarily benefit only a small percentage of students.
Consider that there are roughly 46 million public school students and
six million private school students, Any large-scale voucher’program
would overwhelm the private schools. Advocates claim entrepreneurs
would start up high-quality schools to meet the demand. But look at
what happened in higher education: using federal scholarships as
operating funds, fly-by-night operators started fraudulent private
schools, and Congress has since had to step in and closely regulate
private higher education institutions in order to protect the public’s
dollar. There is no reason to think the same thing would not happen
with elementary and secondary schools.
Supporters of vouchers claim they will help the neediest children
most. Research, experience, and common sense suggest otherwise.
Researchers have concluded that academically and socially disadvantaged
students are less likely to benefit from school voucher programs.
Voucher programs in Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Chile confirm
this research; they led to increased economic and social segregation of
students. They widened the gap, instead of narrowing it.
In Chile, performance actually declined for low-income students.
This makes sense. Any use of public funds for private schools requires
that fewer resources be devoted to public schools. Since the vast
majority of low-income students will remain in the public schools, and
the worst of these schools are, for the most part, already sorely
under-funded, it makes sense that private school vouchers would further
weaken the pubic school system.
The federal government currently meets only seven percent of the
cost of public education, and we do not even cover the costs of our
mandates. For us to further divert resources from what we are already
not doing makes no sense. Transferring funds from public schools to
private schools will not buy textbooks for the public school children,
nor will it encourage better teachers to move to the public schools. A
voucher will not fix a leaky public school roof.
Supporters of private school vouchers claim those schools are better
managed, perform better, and cost less than the public schools. The
facts suggest otherwise.
It is true that some public schools are corrupt and inefficient.
Vouchers will not solve this problem. Good managers will. In Chicago,
innovative leadership and a no-excuses attitude have reshaped the
system in only two years. I would be willing to bet that under Paul
Vallas’s continued leadership, in a few years the Chicago Public
Schools will be a first-rate school system. That will benefit all
425,000 students in the system – not just a select few who might
benefit from a voucher plan. Every mismanaged school system should have
its own Paul Vallas, not a voucher program.
We should rebuild and strengthen the system of public schools that
made this country what it is today. To abandon it now would be a
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