AFT Pennsylvania opposes taxpayer-funded education savings accounts, which are another name for school vouchers. ESA vouchers divert millions of tax dollars from public schools and send the money to private schools and companies, religious schools and tutors without any academic or financial accountability. ESA voucher programs don’t improve student achievement and are vulnerable to fraud and abuse. They deprive public schools, which serve 88% of Pennsylvania's children, of scarce resources and are a distraction that keeps lawmakers, parents and the public from implementing proven education reforms that boost student success and build stronger communities.
- ESA Vouchers take resources away from public schools. Instead of investing in education programs that have been shown to raise student achievement, ESA vouchers take tax dollars away from neighborhood public schools and give money to private and religious schools, which serve a fraction (12%) of the state’s children, and private companies that see education as a money-making venture. Research shows that parents and taxpayers support investing in local public schools over ESA vouchers, education tax credits and other privatization schemes.
- ESA vouchers will cost, not save, money for taxpayers and school districts. Pennsylvania taxpayers cannot afford to support two school systems, one private and one public. SB 2 creates an expensive, new entitlement program requiring a massive, new bureaucracy to maintain. An independent analysis found that ESA vouchers would cost PA taxpayers upwards of $1 billion – or one-fifth of the state’s education budget – and could force communities to shutter neighborhood schools. Taxpayers will incur additional costs for students who never attended public schools and education expenses – like uniforms and tutoring – never before paid for with taxpayer dollars. ESA vouchers are likely to face expensive legal challenges like Nevada’s ESA program, which has been tied up in litigation since 2015.
- ESA vouchers lack transparency and accountability. Unlike public schools, private and parochial schools are run by private boards, which do not hold open meeting or follow public record laws, and are not in any way accountable to taxpayers or parents. Non-public schools are not required to report student achievement, attendance or graduation data; administer standardized tests or publish test scores; or comply with the school code or federal accountability laws, including special education laws. The lack of accountability means that parents have no way to objectively assess academic instruction or compare performance and lawmakers cannot determine whether public money spent on ESA vouchers benefits students or the public.
- ESA vouchers don’t improve student outcomes. Twenty years of research into vouchers, ESAs and education tax credits show they have not delivered on the promise of higher student achievement and graduation rates. Large-scale studies of voucher programs show that many voucher students actually lose ground in both reading and math compared to their public school peers.
- SB 2 encourages discriminatory practices. Public schools serve all students. Private and parochial schools can and do discriminate, and SB 2 does not require them to change discriminatory admission policies or practices to receive public funding. Under SB 2, public tax dollars could be used to discriminate against students based on religion, intellectual abilities, language skills, gender or sexual identity, and taxpayers will end up funding schools their own children are barred from attending.
- SB 2 will impoverish already-struggling schools. Most low-performing public schools are also under-funded schools serving minority and low-income children. The budgets of these schools will take two hits financially, once for existing public school students who receive ESA vouchers and again when state funds are diverted from school district budgets to ESA vouchers for children who never, or only briefly, attended a neighborhood public schools school.
- SB 2 excludes students attending failing charter and cyber charter schools. Students attending failing public charter schools are not eligible for ESAs, nor are students attending any of Pennsylvania’s 13 virtual schools – all of which are failing public schools.
- ESA vouchers proponents are likely to want more – seeking further legislation to offer ESA vouchers to all students. ESA programs in Arizona, Florida and Nevada began by offering vouchers to limited groups of students, like those who qualify for special education services. According to a recent New York Times article, parents using Florida’s special education ESA vouchers learned too late that in using these programs, students forfeited federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) protections and lost vital services. Similar programs require parents to waive their IDEA rights or are silent on the rights of special needs students and make parents responsible for educational tuition and fees not covered by ESAs. Arizona and Nevada began their programs by offering ESAs to students with special needs, but following the lead of “school choice” advocates have pushed to expand the programs to make every child eligible – even wealthy families whose children already attend private schools.
- ESAs do not provide parents with real choices. Parents can apply to private and parochial schools, but ultimately nonpublic schools – not parents – decide which students attend. In Pennsylvania, many communities do not have any nonpublic school options, and where nonpublic schools are available, tax-funded ESA/vouchers will be insufficient to cover tuition and fees at many schools.