President Donald Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Friday will tout school vouchers under the guise of providing "choice" to students—even as more research emerges that vouchers are no way to help children.
Trump is visiting the St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando to promote his $20 billion proposal, which would use public education dollars to fund private schools, including religious ones—a tenet of the program that many say is unconstitutional. DeVos in particular is a strong proponent of voucher systems.
Protesters gathered early along his motorcade route Friday, including many members of Florida teachers' unions. One woman held signs that read "Build schools, not the wall."
"I know many people want their children to receive a religious education, but wasn't the Constitution set on the separation of church and state? Why is the federal government giving money to private schools to educate our children? That shouldn't be their job," a protester told local media.
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association (NEA) said in a statement, "For too long, these schemes have experimented with our children's education without any evidence of real, lasting positive results. The Trump-DeVos agenda does nothing to provide opportunity to all of our students, and that is evident here in Florida."
Trump's visit comes amid a growing body of evidence that vouchers harm the students who receive them. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a report this week which found that the risks to school systems outweigh the "insignificant gains in test scores and limited gains in graduation rates," and that cases where individual schools or districts improved were more likely driven by increased public accountability rather than private school competition.
The risks include increased segregation; the loss of a "common, secular" educational experience; and unfair treatment of teachers.
"If we want to give parents a real 'choice' of quality schools, we should invest in neighborhood public schools with a menu of proven policies," said Stanford professor and EPI research associate Martin Carnoy. "All of these yield much higher returns than the minor gains that have been estimated for voucher students."
And New York Times reporter Kevin Carey recently ran down a list of other studies, published since 2015, which found that the harm done to children who receive vouchers was "the worst in the history of the field."
One study found that in Indiana, children who transferred to private schools via the voucher program experienced "significant losses in achievement" and showed no improvement in reading. That program was implemented under Vice President Mike Pence while he was serving as governor.
Public school students who transferred to private schools through a lottery system in Louisiana dropped several percentiles on average in both reading and math in a single year, another 2015 study found.
And in June, a study by the Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank that supports the "school choice" movement, found that students who used vouchers to attend private schools in Ohio "fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools."
In light of these results, Trump's visit to St. Andrew is notable. On Thursday, the LA Times reported on a study that found students who attended the private religious school through Florida's tax-credit scholarship program "performed slightly worse [pdf] on reading and math scores in the 2014-2015 school year than they did two years later."