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The Three Big Problems With Vouchers And “Micro Schools”

The New York Times published a duo of articles this week delving deep into the micro school community and how it has thrived as more states passed school voucher programs that let parents use taxpayer money on private and even homeschools. While the articles undoubtedly show how such education paths can help specific students, they also remind readers of the pitfalls awaiting this new style of learning.

1. “So Much of It is a Ministry”

The vast majority of micro schools in the U.S. are Christian learning facilities. Times reporter Dana Goldstein visited several, and all were clear that a Biblical learning perspective was essential to the experience. Many are run out of church basements or funded partially with grants from organizations with long histories of far-right Christian messaging such as the Koch Foundation.

This can be a problem because increasingly the “parent choice” movement is centered around segregating children from LGBT perspectives in learning, teachers, or even people. Goldstein even quotes one in her newsletter article as wanting her children away from gender or sexual orientation schooling. The more such schools are empowered with state resources, the more legitimate a backlash of anti-LGBT sentiment is legitimized. Especially because…

2. The Lack of Regulation.

The private school industry is a hodgepodge of state and federal oversight, but at all points they have less regulation than public schools. Goldstein says a third of teachers who work at micro schools are unlicensed. Schools that cater to disabled students often lack on-site therapists or other resources they need.

In Texas, private schools have a long list of information they are not required to give to parents like public schools are, including bullying incidents, school performance data, and discrimination matters. Considering that the modern private school movement was born from the backlash to desegregation, it’s hardly surprising that freedom to discriminate is written into the DNA of many institutions.

3. A Falling Tide

Goldstein’s articles show that vouchers can lift low-income families into better education environments and even help ethnic minority children find instruction that is not so white-centric. Some supporters point out that the voucher programs are most popular in red states where public schools are already underfunded, so why not try a micro school?

The problem is that there is no reason to believe that this scattershot approach will result in a net gain in education funding in these states. While Governor Greg Abbott has promised to increase education spending once he gets his voucher law passed, the state is historically allergic to overall increasing the tax burden of its residents.

Moving part of the money to micro schools and other voucher-driven learning environments just moves the deficit around. Ultimately, it will bleed the public schools until they offer fewer and fewer services, a catastrophic possibility in rural Texas where schools are the lifeblood of a community. The money flows into small fiefdoms that have inadequate oversight and a theocratic bent. For all that vouchers can and do help some students, the systemic result is a way to cover up the fact that red states don’t want to spend money on schools either way.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.


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