The American public education system should provide all students with the opportunity to receive a rigorous, quality education — regardless of class, race, or ethnicity. In direct opposition to this goal, the FY2018 budget recommendations issued by the Trump administration would limit and even reduce opportunities, support, and civil rights protections for students across the country.
The proposed Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success(FOCUS), a new Title I program, is a thinly veiled attempt to open the door for the voucherization of all federal, state, and local public schools funding. As such, the push to funnel public money to private schools with the aim of “improving student academic performance” ignores the lessons of the past.
Attempts at voucherization by school districts across the country have resulted in overwhelmingly negative academic outcomes for students and the promotion of segregation. In the District of Columbia and Louisiana, both of which implemented district-wide voucher programs in an effort to “rescue” poorly performing school districts, evaluations of student performance showed a negative impact on student achievement, with students who participated in the Louisiana voucher experiment exhibiting steep declines in math performance — 13 percent lower, on average, after two years — compared to students who attended traditional public schools.
Why would we voluntarily expand a program that has proven to have the opposite effect of what we all hope to achieve?
The Poverty & Race Research Action Council, like other members of the National Coalition on School Diversity, is not opposed to expanding the range of opportunities available to students and their families. In fact, our research advocacy efforts are centered around the thoughtful, responsible expansion of public school choice approaches that bring children together in racial and economically integrated schools.
The Department of Education’s Magnet School Assistance Program, for instance, builds on decades of research which shows the magnet school approach conveys significant benefits to all students. And the persistent effort to integrate schools in Louisville, Kentucky, provides a real-world example of how school choice programs centered around integration can have positive impacts on student outcomes.
If enacted, a pseudo-voucher program such as FOCUS would all but guarantee a less equitable school funding framework, paving the way for the continued de-funding of low-performing schools and intensifying racial and economic segregation in those schools. In an echo of the segregation academies of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, research from the Century Foundation suggests that private school vouchers are a threat to integrated schools, in some cases opening the door for white and middle-class flight.
If we are really serious about wanting to improve academic achievement for all students, we need to support and fund programs and policies proven to work. The research on the benefits of integrated schools clearly shows that in addition to helping to close the achievement gap, all students in integrated schools are more likely to be prepared for a global economy, have improved civic attitudes and be willing to participate in community activities, and show enhanced critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Yet, as we strive to prepare our students to compete in a global arena, the Trump administration is proposing to divert support for programs that have proven to benefit students’ life outcomes and fund programs demonstrated to cause academic harm. And it doesn’t stop there.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is in line for major cuts in funding and staff positions. At a time when the complaint levels are near historic highs, the White House budget would cripple the already understaffed office charged with protecting the civil rights of all students.
Providing all our nation’s children with a high-quality education should be our top priority. We have not achieved that goal, however, and it is a struggle we cannot afford to lose. We can never stop working to make sure that all children have an opportunity to learn and pursue their American dream.
The administration’s proposed budget will close the doors of opportunity to hundreds of thousands of young minds around the country. We urge Congress to reject this veiled attack on equal access to a quality public education, students’ civil rights, and, ultimately, our country’s long-term ability to lead the world by example.