IEA HOTLINE Podcast

Vouchers — Government Subsidies for Private Schools

January 05, 2023 Mike Journee Season 1 Episode 4
Vouchers — Government Subsidies for Private Schools
IEA HOTLINE Podcast
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IEA HOTLINE Podcast
Vouchers — Government Subsidies for Private Schools
Jan 05, 2023 Season 1 Episode 4
Mike Journee

In this episode of IEA's HOTLINE Podcast, we discuss vouchers — taxpayer funded government subsidies for private schools or vendors that syphon scarce and desperately needed tax dollars away from public school classroom. The panel discusses how voucher proponents cloak voucher schemes in benign language like "school choice" or "scholarships" and how other states that adopt the concept have not seen promised educational outcomes. 

Joining this discussion are central members of IEA's Lobby Team:

  • IEA President Layne McInelly
  • IEA Executive Director Paul Stark
  • IEA Associate Executive Director Matt Compton
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of IEA's HOTLINE Podcast, we discuss vouchers — taxpayer funded government subsidies for private schools or vendors that syphon scarce and desperately needed tax dollars away from public school classroom. The panel discusses how voucher proponents cloak voucher schemes in benign language like "school choice" or "scholarships" and how other states that adopt the concept have not seen promised educational outcomes. 

Joining this discussion are central members of IEA's Lobby Team:

  • IEA President Layne McInelly
  • IEA Executive Director Paul Stark
  • IEA Associate Executive Director Matt Compton
Mike Journee:

Welcome to Idaho education Association's hotline podcast, a weekly discussion about what's happening at the Idaho legislature around public education, and the policy priorities of ies members. I EAA members, our public school educators from all over the state. They're Idaho's most important education experts, and they use their influence to fight for free quality and equitable public education for every student in the state. I'm Mike journee, communications director at the IEA and I'll be your host for this episode of hotline. Today we discuss likely legislation coming during the 2023 legislative session that would bring vouchers to Idaho vouchers or taxpayer funded government subsidies for private schools or vendors that siphon scarce and desperately needed tax dollars away from public school classrooms. Joining me today for the conversation our central members of ies Bobby team IEA President les McAnally IEA, Executive Director Paul Stark, an AES Associate Executive Director, Matt competent. Well, guys, thanks for joining me today and having this conversation about vouchers. You know, in the lead up to the legislative session on January 10. There have been a lot of headlines, a lot of jockeying around this around this particular education issue vouchers. And the buzzers really started around the special session on September one when some pretty prominent lawmakers vowed to use at least some of the $330 million set aside for K through 12 education during that special session for vouchers. So Matt, tell us a little bit about what we're expecting around this issue when lawmakers can be on January 10.

Matt Compton:

Yeah, for sure. I don't think that there have been hand stacked on any individual piece of legislation on what is going what is going to be the most popular. But there are several lawmakers who are working on different forms of voucher legislation. I expect there'll be four or five proposals, and it will be just a matter of which Bill rises to the top with the most amount of critical mass behind it. And that will likely be the one that's put forward that stakeholders will have to push back against.

Mike Journee:

So I remember see vouchers as as big as taxpayer funded government subsidies for for private institutions and vendors. Outside of the public school classrooms, Elaine so tell us a little bit about why our members are so adamant in their opposition to this and why they have been for so long.

Layne McInelly:

Yeah, they're adamant against vouchers, because our public school system right now is not fully funded. We don't have an equitable system across the state right now. And so if you're going to start pulling tax payer public funded schools money away from us, then it's going to just become harder, we're going to have larger class sizes, we're going to have schools that don't have science labs, we're going to have schools that do have science labs, we're going to have a wide variety of opportunities out there for our students. And we as educators want to make sure that we're providing the best public education for all students across Idaho, not just those that can pass a levee or a bond. And so we need to make sure that our schools are fully funded before we even think about taking money away from them.

Mike Journee:

Right. And, Paul, you've talked a little bit about this, about the fact that this is not a new issue. This is something that comes back quite frequently to legislature, and we're expecting a pretty significant fight this year, if early positioning is any indication. So

Paul Stark:

yeah, we've seen this. We've seen schemes like this, come and go over the years, I personally have testified on at least a half dozen times on schemes like this over and over again. And I know they were there before I came to the IAEA. So they keep taking a run at it. And essentially, it's the same thing in a different different model. It's taking public dollars, and it could be through tax credits, it could be through all kinds of different mechanisms. But at the bottom line, taxpayer dollars are flowing to private, exclusionary schools and away from public schools. Right.

Mike Journee:

And Matt labels matter. We've talked a lot about about the words that are used around this concept of taking public dollars away from public school classrooms. And, and and proponents of this idea, really tried to use benign language, things like school choice things like scholarships, those kinds of things. Talk a little bit about those kinds of different concepts and and and what we can what we're going to be hearing from proponents of this legislative session again,

Matt Compton:

I think the most recent tagline that I've heard, is fun students, not systems. Also parental choice. These are all just a I'm examples of the proponents looking for ways to pull public tax dollars away from public school systems to assign $1 figure, like $1,500, to a particular student, so that they could take that allocation to a different a different private school, parochial school and pay for tuition.

Mike Journee:

Yeah. And these, and the reason why they go out of their way to avoid the label voucher, right? We don't let them do that, because it is still a voucher. And but there's a reason for that. It's because this has proven to be controversial in other parts of the country, and is and here as well. And it's proven to be largely ineffective in other places, right.

Matt Compton:

Yeah. And when we do our polling of tax taxpayers or the the general public, folks know that if they hear vouchers, they're not in favor of it. So it's important that those proponents of quote, unquote, school choice, deviate away from using the word voucher, you won't hear them say, Yes, I'm in favor of a voucher program. They'll say, in fact, I'm in favor of a tax credit system or scheme, something like that

Mike Journee:

a scholarship or school choice, or parents choice, which, which are all labels. Of course, anybody who's not really intimately familiar with education policy is going to say, of course, I'm in favor of choice, right? It's one of those kind of words, that's, that's very benign in it. But at the same time, it really does impact our, our public schools,

Layne McInelly:

in saying that Mike, parents have school choice right now, the parents can decide to take their child to a public school down the road from the one that they're attending, or they could choose a public charter school, or they could choose a magnet school. There are many different options out there for parents, if the parent isn't happy with the education, they're receiving at the current school, that their child is at what people are talking about when they're talking about school choice, or parental choice is funding private schools. And that's ultimately what we don't want. We want our students in our public schools receiving the best education that they can provide,

Mike Journee:

right? Well funded public schools offer a lot of choice for people. Right. I mean, that's, that's really what we're getting at here. I mean, they have online options, they have all kinds of things that that proponents would say that they would like for families to have that option, but but if they were to fully fund public schools, that wouldn't be the challenge that they that they face. So. So again, that kind of brings us to the one thing, we can't really talk about vouchers without talking about that kind of chronic underfunding of public education here in Idaho. And the fact that, you know, we're constantly talking about the need for school districts to pass bonds and levies in order to pay fundamental bills, the fact that we're in the middle of a, a, an educator job vacancy crisis in our state, for both certified educators and non certified educators, folks, the our educational support professionals. And, and, and the fact that, that they're unable to convince local taxpayers to pay these or to, to to tax themselves for these expenses. So, Paul, is this really given all all those kinds of things that we're doing? Is this really a good time to talk about buffers? Is there ever a good time to talk about vouchers in that sense?

Paul Stark:

Well, other states that have gone full bore into voucher systems or schemes like that, at the end of the day, what it turns out is that it's the same people that would have been sending their kids to private schools anyway, it hasn't really helped anybody in society hasn't changed anything, except it's taking money away from the public schools. And so, yeah, is there a good time? I don't know. I do believe that there's some fundamental line that should be drawn between taxpayer dollars paying for private schools. I think there's something fundamental there, but currently, at this time, where there's just such a heavy, heavy reliance on bonds and levies, when there is this inability to adequately fund public education in Idaho, I think, I think this is there's probably never a good time. But this certainly isn't the right time.

Mike Journee:

And when you say, an inability, it's really a lack of political will. Right. I mean, we're talking about a constitutional mandate for the Idaho legislature to provide me adequate funding.

Paul Stark:

Yeah, I mean, what do we have over a billion dollars in tax revenue coming into this next legislative session that they're going to decide? This is a moment I mean, honestly, if they if they wanted to change public education, now's the time. This is the moment to do it. And yet, we'll likely see squabbles over inconsequential things that really aren't investing. In Idaho's future. There's no better way to invest in those future than to invest in public education.

Matt Compton:

The most recent big push for vouchers has happened in Arizona. I'm gonna go back to what Paul mentioned. And they essentially expanded their voucher program to be available to everybody. What they're seeing is that it does have a remarkable price tag. And the people who were taking advantage it are the same people who are taking who were enrolled in private schools in the US was placed. So there's not a mass exodus away from our traditional public schools. It just means now we're funding the education for private schools and taking money away from the traditional public schools. Now, I think everybody around this table would be more than willing to entertain a conversation about funding private schools, if we're meeting our constitutional obligation to actually fund the one, the public school systems that's outlined in the Idaho constitution.

Mike Journee:

right lane, and one of the things that we hear quite often is the fact that that are one of the selling points I guess, the proponents like to use is that this is intended to provide lower income families an opportunity to provide their kids a better education, outside of public schools, when in reality, what Matt just was was talking about was, was public school tuition is often much higher than the voucher amount. And the difference is something that lower income families families really can't afford, right? Yeah, when

Layne McInelly:

you look at the private schools around Idaho, that are charging 12 $15,000 a year for tuition, and the government is going to subsidize a voucher for them for $8,000, or lower income families are still going to be able to afford to send their child to private school because they can't, they can't afford that additional$4,000. What we need to look at is stop being 51st in the nation and per pupil spending and look at funding our public schools so that we can have smaller class sizes, we can have up to date curriculum, we can have certified educator in every single classroom, we can staff our schools properly, so that the children are receiving the education that they deserve. Right. And

Mike Journee:

as an educator, as a public school educator yourself, this is an important point, I think that that public schools, take everybody who comes in the door and who wants an education, right? Private schools have an option, they can they can discriminate against who they want to bring in and for whatever reason, it may be so so talk a little bit about that, and the kind of the universal benefit that public schools offer versus versus private schools.

Layne McInelly:

So every child in Idaho deserves a quality education. And like you said, private schools can discriminate whether it's because they're on an IEP or because of their religion, or whatever it may be, they can turn those students down. And public schools will not we will take every single child and we will educate that child to the best of our abilities. And so we need to make sure that we don't have the opportunity for certain students to receive an education and others not by having these vouchers be created in Idaho.

Paul Stark:

Let me let me make one thing clear too, in case any of our listeners are wondering about this, it will 100% be the rural communities that pay the bill for a voucher scheme. It money will decrease in our rural communities as a result of these sorts of things. This is not as our public schools are currently where we aim to provide top notch education no matter what your zip code is. This is a bill that will be paid by our rural communities.

Mike Journee:

So one of the one of the disconnects, that seems to me that voucher proponents have with their argument in favor of public schools, they often argue that that this is going to provide a little bit more oversight as to how public dollars are spent in education, which seems kind of crazy to me in some ways, because of the fact that that between the legislature and local elected school boards, and all the elected officials that have an opportunity to touch education policy, and to provide funding for education policy, are elected officials, or appointed by elected officials versus private schools, which have virtually no oversight of of how they are operated and what their budget is other than their their their selected board members that they might have on their private board in the right map.

Matt Compton:

Yeah. I don't know how they arrived at the conclusion that there would be greater oversight. I know that public private schools in Idaho are likely very well run they have long waiting lists of students who are looking to get in, which is an interesting side point to say that if we were to expand choice, quote unquote, choice, would these private schools actually be able to absorb any more additional students? I don't believe so. But the kind of oversight or the kind of oversight or transparency that we need. When it comes to public school dollars. It's just it's not built into the private school model. I would certainly like to see investments in public education, to a point where all parents felt like their local public school was the optimal parental choice for them and their families. Unfortunately, because of the chronic underfunding, we have too few of adults in buildings, we know that there are too few classified staff, we're finding it very, very difficult to attract and retain highly qualified educators, we're coming up with emergency solutions to ensure that there's just a human being in classrooms. And that that doesn't give our students the opportunity for the best education possible. They need to have a qualified certified educator in the front of the room, providing them with a high quality education, we should be really focusing on the system that 98% of our families in Idaho choose. And that is the public school system and making taxpayer dollar investments into that system before there's any conversation about funding some kind of outside program through vouchers or whatever tax credits, I want to see Idaho lawmakers do what Idaho voters asks them to do. And that's make substantive investments continue investing in public schools, surveys, after survey poll after poll indicates that the number one issue on taxpayer mind is continued investments in public schools and protecting rural schools.

Mike Journee:

And that goes back decades. We have public policy surveys going back decades saying that very same thing.

Paul Stark:

You know, I was thinking about the the you know, Idaho is generally very fiscally conservative, we're very careful. And that has yielded benefits to the state at times. But so you know, we're looking at this next session with a lot of tax revenue, extra tax revenue. But if if the state were to buy into one of these voucher schemes at this legislative session, it's it's unclear to me that in the future, this wouldn't cost us a whole lot of money had had one of these been adopted in 2012, we would have seen some really hard times because all of this money is being saved on siphoned off. It's also noteworthy to say the underfunding has created a problem. And now someone's going to come in and sell us the solution. And I find that repugnant, because they the the underfunding, and the chronic underfunding has created crisis. This isn't the doing of the public education system. This isn't the superintendents, these aren't the educators that are that are in those rooms, the crisis has been created entirely by our state legislature that has just refused to do the right thing to do what the Constitution requires them to do. So they've created the problem. And now the Hawks start sweeping and saying, We're gonna sell you the problem. And guess what the price tag for that solution is very, very high, it's higher than it would be to simply meet your constitutional mandate from the very beginning. And allow public education to flourish, allow it to be what it can be. Because with proper funding, public education, Idaho, can be the hallmark of the country, this can be the high watermark, we have, I mean, I've visited with educators throughout every corner of the state, highest quality people you can ever imagine. And given the proper resources, we would knock it out of the park. But instead they want to, you know, like Oliver Twist, they want to give us just one bowl of porridge. And and then they want to sell us the solution.

Mike Journee:

And enemies of public education have done a really fine job of making that argument and defining defining those those sideboards around public education and starving. The US have the resources that our members need in order to provide that public education. And at some point, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, right? Where they're where the look what they can't get the results with the money that they've been given. Then, at the same time, you know, it's there, they're starving us with the other hand.

Matt Compton:

The opposition says they'll constantly say, they begged the question, how much is enough? And it would be really easy to figure that out, run some kind of adequacy study on what does the public school system need to be hold? That would be a small investment, to really determine what the school systems need to meet the needs of students in the 21st century.

Paul Stark:

And instead of actually talking about funding talking about giving us the resources to be exceptional, which is there, the potential is all there. Instead, we spend all this time with fake news like critical race theory, which is absolutely bunk. It came out of nowhere and there's zero proof to it. What about the attack on public library or public librarians another fake issue a dog whistle on these culture wars that they rather wage than actually focusing in on what we can do to help kids become great social emotional learning is the other one. That's the newest culture Ward's is your that some people want to focus on instead of actually looking at the real problem. And the real problem is, we just haven't given our public schools the chance to be excellent.

Mike Journee:

And a lot of the a lot of the the push behind some of this it comes from some some pretty dark money from out of state From interest that that would would love to sell those solutions to public schools or to parents or to or to a state government.

Paul Stark:

You know, one of the things to notice when you say like, you know, there's a coordinated effort here, it's not surprising that critical race theory, all of a sudden, this bomb drops out of nowhere, no one saw it coming. And all of a sudden, that same bomb drops in other states around the country. Let's let's not make any let's not be naive about this. This is a coordinated nationwide effort to discredit public education. And if anybody thinks that's not true, the facts just belie that belief. Because Absolutely, we see all of these things with the attacks on librarians. We see it happen in every other state. It's a coordinated attack on public education. Let's call it what it is

Matt Compton:

it here in Idaho, it prompted investigation into public schools during the summer, then Lieutenant Governor McKeon put together an indoctrination Task Force to filter out all of the bad things that are happening in schools. And the committee that she put together, the only recommendations they had at the end of that task force was school choice, school choice school choice, we have to let money follow students out of traditional public schools, to wherever their parent wants to send them. So again, you can you can see the masquerade in front of you, when when folks are talking poorly about public education, decreasing the public's confidence in the system. And then their their solution is defund public schools so that we can fund private schools. It's right there in front of you. It's an easy equation.

Paul Stark:

Some people phrase this as it's a solution, looking for a problem. And that's what we're seeing. They know what the solution is. And that is they see these big line items for public education. And they want this to go to for profit.

Mike Journee:

And, and that's probably why we see so many different iterations of the same concept that come back with different monitors with different different shades of the same idea coming back every year, year after year, like you mentioned earlier, Paul, you've been here and testified on this issue a number of number times, right? So

Layne McInelly:

if we look across the country, like Matt said, it has not been successful in Arizona, it has not been successful in Ohio, it has not been successful in multiple states. And so why would we want to continue down a path that has shown time and time again, that it is not successful, and it hasn't worked?

Mike Journee:

Well, gentlemen, thank you for the conversation. It was fantastic. And looking forward to our ability to continue fighting for Idaho's public school educators and making sure that we can keep vouchers out of our public schools.

Matt Compton:

I don't think this is the last time we're going to be talking about vouchers.

Paul Stark:

Thank you. Thanks, Mike. Thanks.

Mike Journee:

Thank you for listening to Idaho education Association's hotline podcast, and it's important discussion about likely voucher legislation coming during the 2023 legislative session. Thanks as well to our guests IEA President Lee McAnally IEA executive director Paul Stark, and I yeas Associate Executive Director Matt Compton. Please watch for future updates about new episodes on IEA social media channels or sign up for email updates on our website at Idaho eaa.org. I'm Mike journee. And as always, I hope you join me in thanking Idaho's public school educators for everything they do for our State students, families and public schools.