Across the U.S. and in Mississippi, voucher programs have been a failure and a massive waste of taxpayer dollars.
Nationally, research shows that children receiving vouchers to attend private schools perform no better than, and often worse than, their peers in public schools while diminishing resources for children being educated in public schools. The net result is negative. (See research.)
In 2015, Mississippi’s leadership pushed through a voucher bill, purportedly for children with special needs, despite overwhelming opposition from constituents. The program is a public policy failure. Of the more than 50,000 children with special needs in Mississippi public schools, 251 were qualified and approved to receive vouchers in the first year of the program. Of those, only 107 were used as of mid-year, .0018 of one percent of Mississippi’s children with special needs.In 2016-2017, 425 vouchers were awarded prior to the start of the school year. At mid-year, 134 of those vouchers were not being used and a lottery was held to re-award them. Read more here.
Mississippi Department of Education officials reported at the December 2015 meeting of the State Board of Education that they received calls from parents of voucher recipients saying that no private school would accept their children and they had no place to use the voucher. These parents learned first hand the great lie of school/parent choice: parents don’t get to choose, the voucher schools do, and they choose exclusively students and parents who are “the right fit” for their schools.
While the voucher program funding sits unused, programs for children with special needs in public schools have been under-funded by more than $20-million annually. The “full funding” amount requested for special education is based on the number of teachers required to serve the children with special needs who are enrolled in each district. When the state under-funds this amount, it is refusing to provide the number of special education teachers needed to serve students in our public schools. For the 2017-2018 school year, special education is under-funded by $26.5-million, enough to hire 531 teachers. Districts typically cover this shortfall with other MAEP funds to ensure that students with special needs are served adequately.
Legislators have said that they want to fund “what works.” When it comes to improving student achievement, vouchers do not work. Diverting public funds to private education ventures is harming our children while education privatizers and profiteers are celebrating.