Almost Heaven? West Virginia?

Recently, BLUUM Director and supposed charter schools advocate Terry Ryan wrote an op-ed in which he advocated for West Virginia’s Wild West approach to school choice. The Mountain State’s approach to vouchers is to open the coffers of state government to support secular and religious private schools and home schools.

As Peter Greene wrote in Forbes, West Virginia’s program would allocate $4,600 to parents in an Education Savings Account, the popular and trendy voucher vehicle favored by many choice advocates. Greene pointed out that:

  • $4,600 would not come close to covering private school tuition costs for many families, since private school costs average over $6,000 in West Virginia, and top $10000 for many programs.
  • Most West Virginia private schools are religiously-affiliated, either Catholic or Baptist.
  • Many corners of the state are quite rural, and have no private schools.
  • Little oversight will be applied to voucher expenditures or to analyzing achievement among ESA users. Providers will be given “maximum freedom.”

Sound familiar? These are some of the elements of the voucher (ESA) bill that was proposed in Idaho this year.

Ryan credits Idaho’s Blaine Amendment for preventing provision of vouchers, arguing that Idaho legislators and education advocates have discriminated against religion when they have turned down voucher proposals. He then posits that recent and upcoming Supreme Court cases will prevent such discrimination.

Well, we do believe that church and state should be kept separate, and that parents choosing to send their students to religious schools should be free to exercise that choice — and pay for it.

But Ryan completely misses the point regarding the harm vouchers will do in practice. The fact is that, in West Virginia, provision of ESA’s will drain funding from public education. And public education includes charter schools, the entities that Ryan purportedly supports.

As Greene writes, “Public tax dollars will disappear down a black hole, with little oversight or accountability, and the state’s school system will become fractured and more underfunded.”

According to Jessica Levin, a senior attorney for the Education Law Center, “Private school vouchers don’t do what education policies are supposed to do: promote positive educational results. Study after study has shown that students who use vouchers to attend private school don’t perform any better than their public school peers. In fact, some studies have found that academic outcomes worsen for voucher students.”

The real discrimination in the West Virginia plan could be against children with disabilities, whose services often are very expensive — draining funds from public schools could impact provision of those services. And parents who choose an ESA to enroll their student with disabilities in a private school would “waive most of their rights under federal law….”

Further, no anti-discrimination provision is written into West Virginia’s law. In fact, a school receiving money from vouchers is not required to alter its creed, practices, admission policy, hiring policy or curriculum in order to accept eligible recipients”.

We were surprised to see an op-ed from Mr. Ryan advocating the sort of program that would hurt Idaho’s public and charter schools. We will continue to advocate for a fully-funded, equitable system of public schools in the state of Idaho.

Co-written by former Idaho school superintendents Don Coberly, Geoffrey Thomas and Wil Overgaard. 

Republish this article on your website