Analysis: Where the 2019 governors stand on private school choice

By Bethany Blankley | Watchdog.org

The 2018 midterms ushered in 36 newly or re-elected governors, the majority of whom support private school choice. EdChoice.org produced a summary of the 36 governors’ positions on what EdChoice Board member Virginia Walden Ford argues “is the civil rights issue of our day.”

In 2018, voters chose 23 Democrats and 27 Republicans as their governors. According to EdChoice.org’s analysis, the majority of governors who support private school choice are Republicans (16), the majority who oppose it are Democrats (12), and mostly Democrats remain “unclear” about their position (8).

“Keep in mind that past support or opposition to K-12 private school choice does not mean a proposal will succeed or fail, but a governor’s position serves as a likely indicator of what will happen if a bill reaches his or her desk,” EdChoice states.

Bruce Parker/TNR

Founded in 1869, Vermont’s Town Tuitioning Program enables students to be educated who live in towns where there are no public schools. The “sending” town pays school tuition directly to the “receiving” school, which can be any public or private, nonreligious school in or outside of Vermont.

“School choice is one of the most controversial and hard-fought public policy debates of the past few decades,” Jeffrey Dorfman writes at Forbes. He explains why the issue appears to fall along partisan lines, saying, “Most liberals, who get significant funding from public school teachers unions, line up against any form of school choice, while many conservatives favor allowing some form of market to introduce competition among schools for education tax dollars.”

Wisconsin governor-elect Tony Evers, who was the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction for many years, ardently opposes private school choice. He pledged to eliminate a voucher program that benefits nearly 30,000 Milwaukee children.

“Wisconsin’s public schools provide access and opportunity to over 860,000 kids,” Evers said during the campaign. “They have to be our priority. When we aren’t adequately funding our public schools, how can we possibly afford a parallel publicly funded private school system?”

Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor Tom Wolf, who has opposed private school choice, did not block efforts to increase funding for Pennsylvania’s tax-credit scholarship program. The program has bipartisan support and gives tax credits to businesses that fund private school scholarships. The governor’s position on new school choice programs is that vouchers divert funds from public schools.

Dorfman said this argument “is based on faulty economics and should be discarded or strongly rebutted by school choice proponents.”

Additionally, Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarship program is so popular that it could double in size and still not meet the demand, a new report by the Commonwealth Foundation states.

Colorado’s governor-elect, the politically far-left Democrat Jared Polis, has expressed conflicting views about private school choice. According to EdChoice.org, his position remains “unclear.” Polis, who was a former State Board of Education member, has opposed vouchers in the past, but recently appointed policy experts who support them.

Polis appointed Jen Walmer, director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a political group that advocates for charter schools, and former Republican Congressman Bob Schaffer, who advocates for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools. Schaffer was also a former member of the state board of education.

Colorado leads the nation in its charter school practices.

Illinois governor-elect Democrat J.B. Pritzker opposes private school choice.

“I oppose diverting public education funds to private schools and I oppose school vouchers,” Pritzker said during the campaign.

According to Chalkbeat, Pritzker plans to “impose a moratorium on charter school expansion. With public schools inadequately funded, I oppose taking state money away from public schools for private school tax credits.”

Democrat governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Democrat Tim Waltz of Minnesota also oppose private school choice. Waltz plans to “nix vouchers – in order to give Minnesota students the best chance at success.” He adds, “we need to keep funding to our public schools, not diverting it into voucher programs.”

By contrast, Vermont’s Republican Gov. Phil Scott lauds the state’s oldest school choice program in America. Founded in 1869, the Town Tuitioning Program enables students to be educated who live in towns where there are no public schools. The “sending” town pays school tuition directly to the “receiving” school, which can be any public or private, nonreligious school in or outside of Vermont.

“The Legislature must also clarify that districts with school choice can preserve it in the event of a consolidation,” Scott said.

Ohio Republican governor-elect Mike DeWine has proposed new regulations for online charter schools, including a pay-for-performance model for electronic schools that would require course completion testing and competency before the school is paid for a student.

Ford, also the founder of D.C. Parents for School Choice and a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, adds, “I’ve been advocating for school choice for more than 20 years. In that time, I have seen families and entire communities change because their children gained access to K-12 schools that nurtured them educationally. Many of the families I served had never had that kind of access to quality education and thus no chance of advancing on to college.”

Nevadans agree. Under former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, the Legislature allocated $26 million to fund Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship Program through 2019. In the next legislative session, it could be extended or terminated. The Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) estimates that the law saved taxpayers millions of dollars and helped low-income students attend private schools of their choice.

In its recent report, “Opportunity Scholarships: A Win for Students and Taxpayers,” NPRI policy analyst Daniel Honchariw explains the scholarship program produced a net savings to taxpayers and actually increased per-pupil funding for traditional public schools.

Based on governor-elect Democrat Steve Sisolak’s comments about education, he might push to terminate the program and also raise taxes.

Images courtesy of SchoolChoiceWeek.com and Bruce Parker/TNR

4 thoughts on “Analysis: Where the 2019 governors stand on private school choice

  1. The governors opposed to school choice are just puppets of the big public education monopoly. I guess they like the campaign cash and promised votes. Personally, I feel that children are more important than union jobs.

  2. The controlling mindset of the VT NEA, Teacher Unions, etc to expand their controlling base is apparent when they desire / want to make private schools (St. Johnsbury Academy, et al) public. Haven’t heard about any problems with students in these schools and the outcome is far better. The Government school systems don’t want any competition and / or a successful system that they can be compared to.

    Bottom line-anything the Government puts their hands on turns out to be a disaster. Private institutions (and businesses) are far more efficient and financially astute. Don’t hear private corporations saying “to stay in business, we’ll just raise our income (taxes).” Tenure is a protective disgrace / means for incompetence. That’s the current trend. What will be the future?

  3. When politicians like Wisconsin’s Tony Evers say “..we aren’t adequately funding our public schools, how can we possibly afford a parallel publicly funded private school system?”, he exposes the flaw in the anti-school-choice argument. Why, for example, does School Choice translate into “a parallel publicly funded private school system” in the first place? This is the same argument we hear throughout Vermont’s public school establishment too. Do vouchers really take money away from public schools?

    Why, for example, wouldn’t vouchers increase public school funding? If public schools are better funded and provide a more diverse curricula with better student outcomes, parents will choose to send their children to those public schools? If public schools are as good as they claim to be, in a School Choice environment they should thrive with increasing enrollments and tax dollars. Public Schools should be putting the under-funded Independent Schools out of business left and right….right?

    Of course, we all know this scenario doesn’t exist and is unlikely in the future, if not improbable. Parents are choosing independent schools because public schools are miserable failures for the most part with no sign of improvement despite their higher funding. In Milwaukee the School Choice voucher for high school is $8393 per student. That’s only 65% of Wisconsin’s public school cost per student. In Vermont the $15,300 high school tuition voucher is 15% lower than its $17,873 low-balled public school cost per student reported by the census bureau. Vermont’s K-6 tuition voucher is even lower.

    The only reason people like Mr. Evers is against school choice is because the education lobby is bribing him. Education special interest groups are his largest political contributor. It has nothing to do with student outcomes and everything to do with job security. If Milwaukee’s 30,000 school choice kids are forced to return the public school system, education costs there will skyrocket and outcomes will decline even more.

  4. VTNEA and Its Cold Icy Grip !

    Vermont’s Governor Scott praises “school choice” without explaining that most Vermont students (and their parents) DO NOT qualify for the CHOICE option and that that Universal School Choice will never become Vermont’s law of the land as long as the teachers’ unions have their cold icy grip on the levers of power in Montpelier.

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