Even as multiple recent studies show school voucher programs producing worse student performance than public schools, GOP voucher legislation is moving forward in Congress. And that worries some V.I. senators and Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett.
Sen. Novelle Francis, (D-STX) recently wrote to Plaskett, saying he is concerned the voucher plan will drain money from the public schools and from the school lunch program.
The bill (H.R. 610) would replace much federal school funding with a block grant based on the number of students in a district. While the same amount of federal dollars may be given out, some of it would be siphoned away from public schools, going instead to vouchers that pay a portion of the tuition at private schools. This has been a popular policy among some Republicans for many years and has been implemented in several states, including Indiana and Louisiana. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a long-time proponent of vouchers and of private, religious schooling.
Francis said in his letter that while money would be available to have children attend private schools, those were “opportunities that will only benefit upper middle class and wealthy families.”
“Low-income children would not be able to take advantage of the opportunity because the voucher seldom pays the entire tuition amount and transportation is usually not provided,” Francis said in a statement about his letter to Plaskett. Also, Francis said he is concerned the plan could erode school lunch funding if many parents opt out of the public schools with vouchers.
“This reduction would affect our school lunch participation numbers and in turn drastically reduce the federal funds that we receive for our feeding programs. Currently our programs feed about 11,700 students daily at a federal government reimbursed rate of just under $4 each. These funds supply food for breakfast, lunch, snack and summer feeding programs, and supplement strapped local government
funds used to pay school lunch program workers, purchase equipment and transport goods and meals,”
With more than 30 percent of the territory’s children living in poverty, the territory’s government, schools and children cannot afford to lose much of the $10 million in federal funding for the school meal program, he said, asking Plaskett to urge members of the House of Representatives to vote against the bill.
The bill may affect school lunches in another way too. It repeals lunch nutrition requirements put in place by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2012. That rule requires schools to offer more fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and low-fat milk and cut back on salt and unhealthy fats.
Plaskett agrees, according to spokesperson Richard Motta.
“Francis is correct. This bill, if passed, will have a negative effect on our territory’s public schools and students,” Motta said.
He said the bill is not expected to pass the Senate in its current form, but may very well pass the House.
Plaskett opposes the legislation and will vigorously fight against it, he said.
“This bill is another example of this administration’s quest to defund critical functions of government and is why Delegate Plaskett in the early days of this administration called for heightened vigilance,” he said, adding that they appreciate Francis and others in the Legislature who are taking these issues seriously.
Separately, several states have put voucher programs in place in recent years and the first scientific studies on outcomes in those programs shows strong negative effects on educational performance.
A recent Brookings Institute study of voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana showed public school students who received vouchers to attend private schools scored lower on reading and math compared to students who stayed in public school. Another study on the Louisiana program found the same outcome. (See Related Links below) Researchers speculate that reforms in public education and a focus on standards and testing has eliminated the perceived general advantage of all private schools over all public schools.