For public schoolteachers, voucher battle isn’t over

Published 8:50 pm Thursday, April 11, 2019

Dear Public Schoolteachers: For once, the good guys (that would be you) won. But save the high-fives. This fight is far from over.

I am talking about the failed attempt to ram a private school voucher bill through this session of the General Assembly. It was just the latest attempt by a bunch of Kool-Aid drinking Republicans to take our tax dollars and give advantage to private schools. The proponents call this an Education Savings Account. I call it an insult to you, the job you do and the conditions under which you do it.

You have been insulted many times before. You have been furloughed. One legislator who suggested sending you home without pay was soon photographed in his tuxedo, slurping an adult beverage at a hoity-toity cocktail party, giving new meaning to the term, “Let ‘em eat cake (or sip martinis”).

Bonus money promised to you by Gov. Nathan Deal in many cases didn’t get to your pockets.

The state said those of you who became National Board Certified would receive a 10 percent stipend only to have George E. Perdue take it away from you somewhere about the time he was getting a sweetheart real estate deal in middle Georgia tax-free.

Now comes your new Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. He tasked newbie Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, who had all of 30 days in office to front the voucher bill. That was like sending Elmer Fudd to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

The bill was defeated in the state Senate by a vote of 28-25. Seven Republican senators voted against the bill and, unlike Dolezal, they come with strong legislative credentials. Butch Miller of Gainesville, president pro tempore of the Senate; Jack Hillof Reidsville, chairman of Senate Appropriations; Lindsay Tippins of Marietta, chairman of Senate Higher Education and one of public education’s best friends; Tyler Harper of Ocilla, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee with whom I served on the Governor’s Education Reform Commission; Greg Kirk of Americus, chairman of State and Local Government; Ellis Black of Valdosta, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, another good friend of public education and Dean Burke of Bainbridge, vice chairman of Health and Human Services. Elmer Fudd was overmatched.

The voucher crowd then tried to sneak it through the House. That, too, failed, and mercifully the session ended. But this voucher scheme will be back next year with a new sense of urgency. The Republican majority in the Legislature is hemorrhaging members and may be in their last gasp as the majority party before loony-left Democrats take over.

Dismantling public education is very important to these vacuous ideologues. Some proponents say if they are sending their kids to private schools, why should they be paying for public schools? If I don’t drive in Vermont, why should my federal tax dollars go to their highways?

They claim the voucher scheme is revenue neutral. It isn’t. Voucher dollars would be subtracted from your district’s funding formula. They claim they would cap the number of students who could participate in the program. This is the same crowd that swore they would cap income tax credits for donations to student scholarship organizations at $50 million and then raised it to $100 million.

Unlike you, public schoolteachers, who are measured seven-ways-from-Sunday, there is no requirement to evaluate voucher programs. We are supposed to take the voucher crowd’s word for it. The names of schools the voucher students attend are not made public. You can smell the possibility of fraud a mile away.

Check out what is happening in Arizona, which proponents like to use as a model for their voucher scheme. Voters rejected an expansion of the program amid concerns about misuse of funds.

I am sure the politicians will remind you of the $3,000 raise you got this year. I would remind them that you didn’t get anything you don’t deserve, particularly with them reminding the world that you are “failing” our kids.

What is failing is that no one will admit it’s all about the money. Billions of dollars controlled by outside private operators. Deep-pocketed special interest groups willing and able to make the kind of campaign contributions you can’t make.

You won this time around, public schoolteachers, but you may be sure the voucher crowd will be back next year talking about you and your failing schools. I plan to be there, too. Doing battle with the Elmer Fudds of the world gives my life meaning.