Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law last spring creating a new school voucher program as part of what she called a “transformational education plan, unleashing a new era of freedom, opportunity and prosperity for all.” (The law also banned teaching about “gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual reproduction” before fifth grade—freedom!) At the time, University of Arkansas at Little Rock historian Jim Ross told ABC News that the plan could “re-segregate” Arkansas schools. “At the end of the day, this is only going to be for a few people,” he said. “And it’s gross that no one will be honest about that.”
Guess what? Some data is now available on who’s using the vouchers, and a whopping 5% of students in the program switched from public school to private school. According to the state report on the program, “The number of students who switched from public school to private school for the purposes of joining the EFA program is estimated to represent a relatively low share of total program enrollment – 5%.”
So much for all Sanders’ talk about ensuring that “no child is ever trapped in a failing school.” This, like other state voucher programs, is a giveaway to private schools and to families that were already sending their kids to private school or homeschooling them. At 16 of the 94 schools (or, in at least one case, a homeschool cooperative) taking vouchers, voucher students account for 60% or more of students.
Two expensive Little Rock campuses each have “more than three times as many students at a single high-end school than the number of students across the entire state who got vouchers because they attended an ‘F’ public school or ‘Level 5’ public school district (the lowest performing schools and districts, according to the state),” the Arkansas Times reports.
Arkansas is not alone. This is a voucher program working as the Arkansas Republicans who passed it knew and intended that it would.
Under an Arizona voucher program, “78% of students who applied had not been enrolled in the public school system the previous year. Smaller voucher programs in New Hampshire (89%) and Wisconsin (75%) have had similar results,” according to the Arkansas Times. In Florida, where a universal school voucher program took effect this year, 69% of new students in the program were already attending private schools, and 44% came from households making $120,000 or more per year for a family of four.
Vouchers do double duty where Republicans are concerned. They give private schools—including many religious schools—a steady stream of revenue, and they help people who can already afford private school do so more easily. But in addition, they siphon money out of public schools, weakening the education and resources available to all kids. Then Republicans, having defunded those schools, get to point to them as “failing” and defund them further.
That’s the Republican plan for government as a whole, and for public education in particular. And it’s off to a grand start in Arkansas.