Sweeping voucher bill moves through Senate committees

A sweeping education voucher bill that could siphon as much as $1 billion from Minnesota public schools is making its way through Senate committees.

The bill establishes an Educational Savings Account that would provide state dollars to parents to pay for private E-12 school and post-secondary school services for students. Educational services include private school tuition, tutoring, and electronic devices such as computers and iPads. The funding would be administered through the Department of Education and placed on a debit card for parental use. The bill would provide parameters on fraud prevention and require MDE to administer fraud prevention programs.

The legislation also outlines which services could be paid for with the ESA funds. After using state dollars to buy electronic devices, parents would own them as opposed to public schools where the devices are only on loan to students. This is a dramatic departure from what the state currently allows for use of public dollars. ESA funds could be used to pay for college tuition, fees, and books. Also, any funds remaining after a student graduated from high school could be used for post-secondary costs.

There are no income or other fiscal guidelines on the bill, so all Minnesota families would be eligible, no matter their income. It is unclear whether local school district levy dollars would also be included in the amount provided in the ESAs. If so, that would mean that local taxpayer-approved dollars designed to aid public school education programs would be diverted to private schools.

Under the legislation, non-public schools in the ESA program would have complete autonomy from state regulations, which means the state would lack any oversight over the public money spent on this program and couldn’t monitor whether students would be succeeding academically with state dollars.

Parents also would waive the rights for their students to receive a free and appropriate public education as based on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which could affect students with disabilities who choose to attend private schools.

The bill was sent to the State Government Committee for discussion and sent back to the E-12 Committee for further action. Senate DFLers are proud supporters of our public schools, and we will continue to oppose any efforts to divert public dollars away from our schools and into private institutions. (SF 1525)