Principal - May/June 2021 - 53

Should a voucher
program be enacted
or expanded in
your state, it will
likely have some
consequence for your
school or district.
found in favor of the parents. The
court ruled that if the state created a
statewide voucher program, it could
not exclude religious schools.
The Espinoza decision-along with
the COVID-19 pandemic, I suspect-
partly explains the increased activity in promoting voucher programs
through state legislation. Numerous
state legislatures, including those of
Arizona, Georgia, and Florida, are entertaining some kind of voucher bill.

Voucher Policy Concerns
The debate over school choice and
voucher programs is intense. But research has highlighted significant questions concerning voucher programs.
Some education scholars have
argued that voucher programs detract
from the state's duty to provide a free
public education to all students. And
using public tax dollars to subsidize private education-religious or
secular-often dilutes the resources
available to public schools.
When enrollment drops in a school,
that school typically loses the state
funding associated with the students who left. Yet, the fixed costs
of schools (maintenance, utilities,

staffing) remain. In most instances, schools must perform the same work with
less money.
Private schools are not accountable to local and state taxpayers, and most voucher programs do not impose the same obligations to ensure quality that the public
education system follows (e.g., teacher qualifications, achievement monitoring).
The lack of accountability and oversight has consequences. The media has
reported numerous instances in which millions of taxpayer dollars have been
misspent by entities receiving money through voucher programs. And there are
many other concerns that question the wisdom of expanding voucher programs,
including a lack of improvement in student achievement.

Speaking Out
Should a voucher program be enacted or expanded in your state, it will likely
have some consequence for your school or district. For an excellent look at that
impact, revisit Mark Kern's column in the May/June 2015 issue of Principal, " Speaking Up: Vouchers, a Principal's Take. "
I'd like to expand upon that column by outlining several steps you can take-
generally on your own time-as an advocate for your school and the kids you
serve. While you are a public employee, you maintain your right to political
speech. Use it! After all, who is in a better position to talk about what works-and
what does not work-in schools?
So, what can you do? To begin with, find out what the status of any education legislation is in your state. What bills have been proposed, and where are
they in the legislative process? Various websites and organizations make this
relatively easy.
Second, call and write your state legislators. When legislators receive correspondence from their constituents, they listen. As the saying goes, all politics is local.
Third, organize. Find the local and state groups that share your view. Tap into
their efforts, and help where you can. That might mean making calls or even testifying before legislative committees about the impact of a proposed bill.
The guiding principle (no pun intended) of this column is that you, as a building
leader, have a depth of professional expertise that must be considered by the
policymakers and lawmakers who make rulings in " faraway " capitals. Too often,
educators and administrators are the last to be heard by the people passing laws
and enacting policies that will have sweeping consequences for your work.
I know you have a lot on your plate. But I hope that you will make the effort
to engage and influence education policy debates whenever you can, including
those surrounding school vouchers.
Mark Paige is associate professor of public policy at the University of
Massachusetts Dartmouth, a former school law attorney, and a board member
of the Education Law Association.

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