Taking the Easy Way Out: How Vouchers Hurt Maryland’s Public Schools

Last month, we brought you an inside look into how the Kirwan Commission can protect Maryland education from Governor Larry Hogan’s anti-public schools agenda, which includes private school vouchers.  Today, we bring you a deep dive into what school vouchers are and how they widen the educational inequality gap.

Voucher laws allow select students to attend private schools by using taxpayer dollars to reimburse parents for some or all of their tuition expenses.  Hogan’s $5 million Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program, which is now in its second school year, distributes grants ranging from $1,000 to $4,400 per student to attend private school.  Instead of putting taxpayer dollars to work improving public schools that affect scores of students, a private school voucher funnels public funds into the education of a single child.  The program is slated to expand from $5 million a year in public funding to $10 million a year in public funding over the next three years.

While Hogan claims that BOOST is intended to help low-income families, the program requires students to have already applied to or be enrolled in a private school, narrowing the pool of eligible applicants to families who already have the means to send their children to private school.  As a result, 76 percent of BOOST beneficiaries are already enrolled in private school.  The BOOST program essentially serves to give well-off families a discount on private school at the expense of the larger public education system.

Hogan is not alone as a proponent of private school vouchers; the Republican Party touts private school vouchers as part of its “school choice” platform.  President Donald Trump supported including $250 million for these failing private school vouchers in the 2018 federal budget.  His Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, meanwhile, has built her career advocating for school choice vouchers to the detriment of public school students, particularly in her home state of Michigan.

Research demonstrates that private school vouchers do not improve students’ educational performance.  Studies from Tulane University and the University of Arkansas, as well as the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Kentucky show that low-income students who receive private school vouchers actually tend to have lower test scores after entering private school; it takes up to three to four years in private school for students to compensate for these setbacks, compelling several students to drop out of private school and return to the public education system.

Private school vouchers also blur the separation of church and state.  According to the Council for American Private Education, approximately 79 percent of private schools are affiliated with religious institutions and provide some form of religious instruction to their students.  When Maryland tax dollars are rerouted to fund private school vouchers, they force taxpayers to subsidize religious education. Giving voucher money to religious schools also disproportionately limits school choice options for LGBTQ students, whom some religious schools, such as a private Lutheran school in Harford County, openly discriminate against.

School vouchers are the equivalent of giving an entire apple pie to one person instead of slicing it up equally so that as many people as possible can have a taste.  While every child deserves a quality education, the education of one student should not come at the expense of his or her peers.  Instead of addressing systemic inequality in public education, Hogan’s bright idea is to slap a bandage on the problem at the expense of the larger student population.  It’s lazy policymaking, and our students deserve better from their elected officials.