It's been about eight years since congressional Republicans first created a D.C. school voucher system, overriding the wishes of local elected officials and voters in the District. The program has been a mixed bag, but the Washington Post had an interesting piece over the weekend on one of the system's more glaring flaws.
Congress created the nation's only federally funded school voucher program in the District to give the city's poorest children a chance at a better education than their neighborhood schools offer.But a Washington Post review found that hundreds of students use their voucher dollars to attend schools that are unaccredited or are in unconventional settings, such as a family-run K-12 school operating out of a storefront, a Nation of Islam school based in a converted Deanwood residence, and a school built around the philosophy of a Bulgarian psychotherapist.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because there's a similar problem unfolding in Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has established a voucher program that uses tax dollars to finance truly bizarre lesson plans, by some religious leaders who are, shall we say, a little eccentric.
To reiterate what we discussed in July, this has always been one of the key problems voucher proponents couldn't resolve. The basic framework is easy enough to follow: (1) identify underperforming public schools; (2) give some of the students at those schools tuition money for private schools; (3) watch those kids' test scores improve thanks to the unproven wonders of private education; and (4) wait for the struggling public schools to get better with less money and fewer smart children.
Aside from the faulty assumptions and serious constitutional questions surrounding giving tax dollars to religious ministries, there's the basic question of accountability.
Voucher proponents want to test public schools to identify which are the best and worst, but they insist private schools be left alone -- even after they get taxpayer money. Voucher advocates don't bother to consider who's running the schools, whether they're qualified to teach children, or even what the curricula looks like. How would anyone know public funds are being well spent? They wouldn't. How would anyone know if the students are benefiting? They wouldn't know that, either.
How would anyone know the private schools have good enough teachers and a strong enough curriculum to deserve tax dollars in the first place? Add that to the list of mysteries.