Misinformation at Play in Voucher Debate, Budget Woes Worsen

Posted 3/24/17

Lawmakers were given misinformation during the first round of the voucher debate.

As legislators were being urged to pass a bill allowing vouchers for private school tuition, they were told repeatedly that the state's largest school district, DeSoto County, has no program to serve students with dyslexia. DeSoto County students, it was claimed, were desperate to take Mississippi tax dollars to a private school in Memphis to receive dyslexia services.

The fact is that the DeSoto County School District has an impressive dyslexia program overseen by four dyslexia therapists and including 111 teachers specially trained in dyslexia identification and education. Research conducted by The Parents' Campaign Research and Education Fund has revealed that DeSoto County's program outpaces what is required in other states. Few states utilize dyslexia therapists at all, and none use them as the primary deliverer of dyslexia services to students. Other states use regular classroom teachers and reading interventionists to serve students with dyslexia.

This is very different from the picture painted for legislators by those promoting vouchers. Whether the misinformation was intentional or not, it aligns with the strategy often used by those pushing privatization of public education:

     1. Starve public schools of the resources they need to be successful.
     2. Use propaganda to convince the public that their public schools don't serve students well.
     3. Fund pro-privatization candidates to win majorities in state legislatures and pass bills to allow vouchers, for-profit charters, and cyber schools.
     4. Fund pro-privatization candidates to win majorities on local school boards and approve charter schools and voucher payments to private schools.

Privatization groups funded out of Washington, D.C., have cropped up in Mississippi to push this agenda, and they are supporting the Senate version of HB 1046, which was amended to provide vouchers for private school tuition. Public funds are intended for public schools where the doors are open to all students. A vote on this bill could come any time in the next several days.

Ask your legislators to vote NO on HB 1046 and any bill that sends our public dollars to unaccountable private schools.

Find contact information for legislators in your school district. Capitol Switchboard: 601.359.3770

Share the same message with Lt. Governor Reeves, Capitol: 601.359.3200, and Speaker Gunn, Capitol: 601.359.3300.

There is a preponderance of evidence that vouchers harm a majority of students. Students who use vouchers to go to private schools under-perform their peers who remain in public schools, and public school students lose services and teachers when funding is diverted to private voucher schools. The Senate amendment to HB 1046 fits the privatization pattern we have seen in other states: start with a limited voucher program targeted toward a small group of students or select schools, then use amendments in subsequent years to broaden the law until full blown privatization is achieved.

This afternoon, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee adopted a new revenue estimate, reducing the amount available to appropriate for the coming year by $175-million. This will mean even deeper cuts to critical state services that taxpayers rely on. I will keep you posted as we learn more about the impact on public school funding.

On a sad note, Rep. Steve Holland announced today that he has been diagnosed with dementia and will retire at the end of this term. Rep. Holland has been a tireless advocate for public education, and he will be sorely missed.

This is conference weekend; most legislators will remain at the Capitol throughout the weekend as conferees hammer out final details of the budget and final language on general bills. I will keep you posted on developments. In the meantime, be sure to contact your legislators and tell them to vote NO on any bill that sends public dollars to private schools. Together, we've got this!