Voucher advocates claim that vouchers help disadvantaged pupils. Yet some voucher programs literally subtract funding from proven public school programs for low-income and at-risk students in order to fund voucher programs.
- Advocates in Milwaukee characterize vouchers as the only "choice" for disadvantaged students, even as proven public school alternatives have been limited. The state's popular SAGE program (Student Achievement Guarantee in Education) lowers student/teacher ratios to no more than 15:1, increases school-community collaboration and improves curriculum for qualifying low-income schools. Yet the state initially imposed a cap on the number of Milwaukee schools allowed to participate, seriously limiting the benefits of the program for the city's students.32 As of 1998-99, SAGE-eligible students outside Milwaukee had a one in two chance of receiving SAGE funding; that number for SAGE-eligible students in Milwaukee was less than one in six,33 even though inner-city and minority students reap the greatest benefits from class size reduction.34 These inequities were redressed in the 1999-2001 state budget; Milwaukee enrolled 74 additional schools in SAGE in the 2000-01 school year.35
- SAGE faced a new threat in Governor McCallum's 2001-2003 budget, which would have increased the funding for vouchers by $27.5 million above base funding of $49.7 million per year while at the same time cutting SAGE by roughly the same amount.36 Annual SAGE evaluations have consistently demonstrated that SAGE benefits all students but is particularly effective in helping low-income and minority children achieve academic gains. The legislature rejected the governor's SAGE cut, but approved continued full funding for the voucher program even while cutting $14 million from the state's kindergarten program for four-year olds.37
- A similar reduction of "choice" occurred in Cleveland, where full-day kindergarten was eliminated in all of Cleveland's non-magnet schools the year before the voucher program began, due to financial cutbacks. Many families' only "choice" for kindergarten in the first year was the voucher program.38
- The funds for the Cleveland voucher program come out of the city's portion of the state's Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid (DPIA) funding. DPIA is directed toward low-income public school students to be used for such programs as class size reduction, dropout prevention, Head Start or pre-school, all-day kindergarten, reading improvement and summer school.39
- In Florida, some pro-voucher state legislators who argue that vouchers will improve educational quality have at the same time voted to cut back on programs for struggling students, have failed to provide adequate funding for textbooks, have increased class sized, and when faced with a budget surplus, voted to give twice as much money in tax breaks as to school funding.40