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Trump Administration Voucher Scheme — a Threat to New York City Children


[This op-ed originally appeared in City & State on Jan. 9, 2017.]

Students in more than 1,200 New York City schools would face higher class sizes, have fewer teachers and lose after-school academic and enrichment programs if President-elect Donald Trump makes good on a campaign promise to pull billions of federal dollars away from public schools to pay for private vouchers.

While Trump has yet to specify where the administration would find the money to start a national school voucher program, Republicans have previously tried to use a source that provides New York City with $500 million a year -- federal Title 1 funds that are designated to help students in poverty.

More than 700,000 students — overwhelmingly African-American and Hispanic — attend the 1,265 city schools where Title 1 funds help defray the costs of teachers, guidance counselors, aides and administrators. Should the Title 1 money disappear, Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton, New Utrecht, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Madison high schools would lose nearly $9 million in total, while Francis Lewis, Hillcrest, Bayside and John Bowne high schools in Queens would lose a total of more than $6 million.

More than 900 elementary and middle schools across the city would lose funds, over a dozen of them roughly $1 million each.

Here are the New York City traditional public schools that would lose the most Title 1 funding.

See Title 1 funding by New York state assembly, senate, and congressional districts.

If the school system had to make up a $500 million loss of Title 1 funds, more than these schools would suffer. The damage would spread through the system, raising class sizes even in non-Title 1 schools, threatening academic enrichment programs, guidance, art and music and other services our children depend on.

The diversion of public funds from public schools — through charters, vouchers or both — is a pattern already embraced by high-level members of the new administration.

Vice-President-elect Mike Pence strongly backed a voucher program as governor of Indiana. The nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has played a leading role in undermining public education in her home state of Michigan.

The trouble is their voucher and charter plans don’t work.

A study from the University of Notre Dame found that the Indiana's voucher program was a windfall for private schools, most of which attracted white students, but on average the students' performance suffered compared to their peers in public schools.

As the Brookings Institution noted in reviewing studies of voucher programs in Indiana, Louisiana and other jurisdictions, "In Indiana, a student who had entered a private school with a math score at the 50th percentile declined to the 44th percentile after one year... A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction."

Vouchers are not the only issue. DeVos is a major contributor to New York City’s Success Academy Charter Schools and a supporter of the charter movement in general. But the charters in DeVos's home state of Michigan are a mess, with 80 percent performing worse than traditional public schools. Yet DeVos — a billionaire whose family has also opposed workers' rights, gay marriage and has contributed heavily to a variety of other right-wing causes — has led the way in resisting any attempts to regulate or improve charter performance.

While public schools lose resources and charter students lose ground, the big winners in Michigan have been investors in for-profit charters and private schools, including those with their own financial resources, that now get public funds.

The failed education policies of Pence and DeVos drain resources from the traditional public schools, while in too many cases proving an empty promise for students and their families.

That’s why New York cannot afford to let such failed policies take hold here. We New Yorkers need to come together to protect our public schools, and fight off attempts to charterize, voucherize and eventually privatize our public schools.

Related Topics: Op-eds, Education Funding