Keeping Public Funds in Public Schools: Year in Review, Year Ahead
In an exceedingly challenging year, Public Funds Public Schools achieved crucial victories in 2020 over the proponents of private school vouchers, led by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. PFPS and our partners stopped over $1.5 billion in public funds from being diverted to private schools, supported a network of advocates opposing vouchers, and mounted a robust effort to inform lawmakers and the public of the threat of vouchers to our nation’s children, the vast majority of whom attend public schools.
PFPS was launched in 2019 as a national campaign to oppose private school vouchers and ensure public funds for education are used only to maintain and support public schools. The PFPS founding partners are the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), SPLC Action Fund, Education Law Center (ELC), and the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP (MTO).
Here are highlights of PFPS’ successes on behalf of public school students over the past year, and what to watch for in 2021.
In NAACP v. DeVos, PFPS attorneys represented the NAACP and public school families and districts in a successful lawsuit challenging Secretary DeVos’ attempt to funnel dramatically inflated amounts of federal COVID-19 relief funds to private schools. The case resulted in nationwide invalidation of the DeVos rule, preventing an estimated $1 billion or more from being illegally diverted from public school districts in urgent need of funds to address the impacts of the pandemic on their students.
In McEwen v. Lee, PFPS partners SPLC and ELC, along with the ACLU of Tennessee and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, are representing public school families from Nashville and Memphis in a lawsuit challenging a voucher program enacted by the Tennessee Legislature in 2019. A state trial court blocked the program as a violation of the state constitution, and the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the decision. The McEwen plaintiffs are now urging the Tennessee Supreme Court to reject the request of pro-voucher lawyers to review the case. If the lower court rulings stand, tens of millions of dollars will remain in the budgets of the already underfunded Memphis and Nashville public schools.
PFPS filed amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs to oppose vouchers in numerous cases across the country. Our U.S. Supreme Court amicus brief in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue was cited in Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion, although the Court ruled against the exclusion of religious schools from Montana’s voucher program.
PFPS also filed amicus briefs in Maine and South Carolina cases that successfully blocked the diversion of public funds to private and religious schools. And PFPS participated by invitation of the Michigan Supreme Court in a pending case challenging private school reimbursements that violate the state constitution.
For more information about each of these cases, including key filings and decisions, visit PFPS’s Litigation page, which also includes a comprehensive list of state and federal court decisions on private school vouchers and other diversions of public funds to private schools. Watch the PFPS webinar about the path forward for litigating voucher challenges here.
In 2020, PFPS launched the first nationwide voucher bill tracking tool accessible to the public. This interactive tool allows site visitors to search for voucher legislation by state, keyword, or bill number, and to track the progress of bills and other key information.
PFPS published policy briefs highlighting Mississippi's ineffective and wasteful voucher program for students with disabilities and calling for New York to stop diverting to private schools hundreds of millions of dollars per year that could alleviate public school underfunding. PFPS partnered with other state and national groups to urge the Arkansas legislature to end the state’s broken voucher program.
PFPS also launched the first in a series of fact sheets that provide advocates with talking points and detailed citations about key arguments against voucher programs. This first fact sheet summarizes research on the myriad negative effects of voucher programs on public schools and their students.
In 2021, look for additional PFPS fact sheets and a comprehensive analysis of 2020 voucher legislation in Congress and across the 50 state legislatures.
High quality research on the harmful effects of private school vouchers is a crucial tool in the fight to keep public funds in public schools. The PFPS Research page provides an extensive catalogue of research about the negative effects of vouchers on academic outcomes, civil rights, school integration, public school funding, and more, with brief summaries and links to full articles and reports.
In 2021, PFPS will publish original research about the fiscal impact of private school voucher programs in several key states.
PFPS launched a webinar series on issues related to private school vouchers and the paramount goal of keeping public funds in public schools. PFPS hosted accomplished and inspiring advocates, scholars, educators, parents, litigators, and writers, who discussed their work on behalf of public schools and students and offered practical tips for advocacy and litigation. Webinar recordings are available here.
Webinars and interviews featuring PFPS are posted on the Advocacy page of the website.
In just two years, PFPS has established itself as a proactive and trusted counterweight to the vast network of well-financed groups pressing a privatization agenda at the state and federal levels. This success is a testament to the commitment of dedicated advocates nationwide, with whom PFPS partners, to advancing the cause of education and racial justice for students attending public schools across the country. Although 2021 will bring new challenges, especially in the states, PFPS will be ready.
Visit the PFPS website regularly to access continually updated information on voucher-related litigation, legislation, advocacy, and research. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on PFPS' work in the new year.
Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support the work of PFPS here.