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Curmudgucation: A Voucher By Any Other Name

Voucher supporters have one major problem: school vouchers are unpopular.

The tern doesn't test well. Measure of public support is iffy-- if you ask people if they would like every student to have the chance to ride to a great school on their own pony, people say yes, but if you ask a more reality-based framing ("should we spend education dollars on public schools or subsidies for some private schools") the results look a bit different

But one clear measure of public support for vouchers is this; despite all the insistence that the public just loves the idea, no voucher measure has ever been passed by the voters in a state. All voucher laws have been passed by legislators, not voted in by the public. 

Voucher supporters have developed one clear strategy-- call them something else.

The basic school voucher idea is simple-- the state takes money that it was going to spend on public education (either after that money has been paid in taxes, or by having someone trade a "contribution" to a voucher fund in exchange for tax credit) and giving it to parents, who in turn can go out and buy education services on their own. 

They're not taxpayer-funded vouchers--they're "tax credit scholarships." They're not vouchers-- they're an Education Freedom Account. And if you want to get in a twitter battle, go ahead and call education savings accounts "vouchers," because part of the whole point of education savings account was to create an instrument that was both a super-voucher and not-something-we'll-call-a-voucher-at-all-so-stop-doing-that-dammit.

I expect that behind the curtain there have been folks fervently doing messaging testing on other names for vouchers, and from the results around the nation, we can deduce that words that tested well were "education" and "freedom" and "scholarship." Also, "empowerment" is coming on strong. States with education savings accounts have the chance to play with the initials ESA. 

So what pops out of the branding machine is Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (Arizona), Education Freedom Account (Arkansas, New Hampshire), Family Empowerment Scholarship Program (Florida), Choice Scholarship Program (Indiana), Opportunity Scholarship Program (North Carolina), Education Choice Scholarship (Ohio), and, of course, who could forget Betsy DeVos's national tax credit scholarship voucher program, the Education Freedom Plan

You can mad lib your way to a voucher program of your own. Education Freedom Scholarship Opportunity Program! Family Freedom Education Scholarships! Family Freedom Empowerment Education Scholarship Opportunity Choice Program Plan! Just don't call it a voucher.

Bonus credits to Louisiana, where someone took the trouble to write a bill pushing the Louisiana Giving All True Opportunity to Rise-- LA GATOR. And in California, legislature voucherfiles are trying "Education Flex Account" for their latest attempt to pass an ESA voucher.

But a voucher by any other name still smells the same. It's a payoff to parents so that they'll exit public education, a false promise of education choice, a redirection of public taxpayer dollars into private pockets, an outsourcing of discrimination, a public subsidy for private religious choices, a means of defunding and dismantling public education as we understand it in this country, a transformation of a public good into a market-based commodity. Call it what you like. There isn't enough air freshener in the world to make it smell like a rose.


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Peter Greene

Peter Greene has been a high school English teacher in Northwest Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He blogs at Curmudgucation. ...