Public school supporters increased their efforts late last week and this weekend to derail legislation that could divert public funds to private schools and open a floodgate of damaging, financially draining, voucher-driven transfers across public school district lines.
The House Education Committee, on a voice vote, passed a bill that would allow vouchers for private schools and broaden interdistrict transfers, with tax revenues following students from one district to another.
The voucher plans so far have no accountability requirements, which is the equivalent of pouring public funds into a deep hole.
Paul Mize, a Tupelo business executive who served as chairman of the SouthEastern Regional Vision for Education program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said vouchers are not a cure-all for education problems.
Mize, a well-known Republican who was appointed to SERVE during the Bush presidencies, said vouchers work best in states or regions where support for education is relatively uniform, but not in a state like Mississippi where vast disparities exist between the best and weakest districts.
Mize said disparities in ad valorem tax revenues highlight the risks in vouchers. Mize said a mill of tax in the Tupelo district generates about $500,000 in revenue compared to $30,000 for a mill in some poor districts.
Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, said he expected a heated and prolonged debate when the House takes up its version of vouchers for private schools and transfers among public school districts.
Hughes and others have said about $30 million could flow out of pubic schools during the first year of plans allowing private-school funding.
Rep. Joel Bomgar, R-Madison, said the House Education Committee proposal “extends educational opportunity to allow those who can’t afford to move to another (better performing) district or cannot afford to attend a private school.”
Bomgar misses the point of public schools – strong communities of support across all demographic lines. When asked what the accountability measures were in the bill to ensure students were progressing educationally, Bomgar said the accountability was the parents.
Parents are crucial in their support for their children’s education, but making each set of parents the vehicle for accountabilty invites chaos in determining adequate achievement and adequate performance by the schools.
“This is a travesty to public education in Mississippi,” said Rep. Hughes of the voucher bill. “This is a step backward…at a time we have underfunded public education $1.7 billion, and we are $200 million short for this year.”
The bill this year would provide $5,000 vouchers to low-income students and $4,000 vouchers per year to students earning up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level, $85,000 annually for a family of four.
Republicans claim to oppose redistribution of wealth, but that position obviously doesn’t extend to public schools.