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UFT Says Trump's Voucher Plan Could Hurt City's Poor Students

If President-elect Donald Trump makes good on his campaign promise to expand school voucher programs, poor students, the very group the plan is often purported to help, will suffer in New York City, according to an analysis by the United Federation of Teachers.

Voucher programs put state education dollars into the hands of parents who can use that money to send their kids to private, including religious, schools. The New York City union, a staunch opponent of vouchers, argues that Trump's plan to pull billions of federal dollars away from public schools to pay for private vouchers would be devastating to city kids. According to the United Federation of Teachers, class size would increase, while there would likely be fewer teachers and fewer after-school academic and enrichment programs.

Confirmation hearings for Trump's education secretary pick, Betsy DeVos, are scheduled for January 11. Some educators argue DeVos will use her influence to dismantle traditional public schools. (Read more about her background and education advocacy here.)

"We need to hear in detail from Ms. DeVos—a fervent advocate of vouchers and charter schools—what the administration's plan is for Title I, which is specifically designed to aid poor pupils and which New York City relies on to help serve our neediest students," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew in a statement. 

Trump has voiced support of school choice without saying where exactly he will find the money to fund a $20 billion national voucher program. The union fears he will take a page from Congressional Republicans' playbook and attempt to change federal law to allow states to use Title I funds to pay for vouchers. EdWeek's Alyson Klein, weighing the feasibility of such a plan and of a national voucher program in general in a recent Politics K-12 blog post, points out that Trump couldn't make any of this happen with a simple snap of the fingers.

But the United Federation of Teachers points out that such redirection of funds from public schools is a tactic the new administration already embraces. As governor of Indiana, for instance, Vice President-elect Mike Pence backed a voucher program (read about its rapid expansion here), and DeVos has used her financial influence to push for school choice in her home state of Michigan as well as nationwide.

EdChoice reports there are voucher programs up and running in the District of Columbia and in 14 states: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Advocates of school choice say these programs save taxpayers money because vouchers provide at most 90 percent of the funding a traditional public school would receive for each student.

While studies point to a mix of effects on student achievement, the UFT report cites a study from the University of Notre Dame that found Indiana's voucher program was a windfall for private schools, mostly attracting middle-class white students, and that student performance among voucher recipients on standardized tests suffered in comparison with those who remained in traditional public schools.

Should Title I money disappear, 1,265 New York City schools would lose funding to the tune of millions of dollars, according to the United Federation of Teachers. Brooklyn's Fort Hamilton, New Utrecht, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Madison high schools, for instance, would lose nearly $9 million in total, while Francis Lewis, Hillcrest, Bayside and John Bowne high schools in Queens would lose a total of more than $6 million. More than 900 elementary and middle schools citywide would be affected, with about a dozen losing around $1 million each. Here are the New York City traditional public schools that would lose the most Title 1 funding, according to the United Federation of Teachers.

Mulgrew argues that more than just these schools would be affected. The $500 million of Title I funds that could be cut helps to pay for teachers, guidance counselors and administrators. "The damage would spread through the system, raising class sizes even in non-Title I schools, threatening academic enrichment programs, guidance, art, music and other services our children depend on," he said.

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