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A student leader helps classmates learn sight words during guided literacy Credit: Sharon Rubenstien

While President Trump was still a candidate, he vowed that his administration would allocate $20 billion to support vouchers for school choice, a likely source being Title 1 funds that currently go to about two-thirds of America’s public schools.

If we have learned anything over the past several weeks, it’s that the administration has been checking off promises at a breakneck pace. Of course, such a dramatic change would require the approval of Congress, which answers to its own constituencies. But if past is prologue, this will be a top priority for newly confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Title I money provides critical resources for schools to serve children who live in poverty: the greater the number of impoverished children, the more funds for the school. Even when charter and private schools work well, they do not guarantee access for each and every child entitled to an education. The schools that do are standard-issue district public schools – and it’s a heavy lift. They must accept new students at any time of year and do their best, no matter what is necessary to meet the child’s needs.

Related: DeVos praises virtual schools, but new research points to problems

We at Teaching Matters know first hand the particular challenge this creates for schools, and the extra resources it requires.

“We know that starving public schools is no way to bring the best to all students.”

Turning Title 1 funds into vouchers for private and parochial schools would have ruinous consequences.

Many charter schools already receive Title 1 funds. We have seen excellent charter schools (as part of their partnership with the public school system) function as laboratories for experiment – pioneering new models of instruction or school design that lead the way and are eventually adopted on a larger scale. But in New York State, the process of approving a charter school is one of deliberation, rather than a free-for-all.

A rushed and haphazard plan to increase the charter or private school sector is not how New York created some alternative, high quality options to district schools. Our charter sector evolved over time, with an emphasis on good options, rather than just more options. It’s worth noting, too, that charters don’t necessarily achieve better results than their district counterparts. Some charter schools are better than most public schools, and some public schools are better than most charter schools.

Related: NYC’s bold gamble: Spend big on impoverished students’ social and emotional needs to get academic gains

If we wish to make real the important promise of delivering high quality, excellent education to all students regardless of zip code or demographics, we have to be as careful as we are speedy.

We have to make sure that we are not only gatekeepers for new schools, but standard-setters for all schools that take public funds. Accountability is a key element for delivering excellence, and it shouldn’t discriminate.

Working on sight words at an Early Reading Matters school Credit: Sharon Rubenstein

Though the recently enacted Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) would seem to preclude a fiscal shift before at least the spring, we consider the prospect of reallocation poorly understood, and a very bad idea overall. We don’t want to see it happen.

The stakes are high — about $1.43 billion in New York State.  In New York City alone more than $700 million is at risk just from a Title 1 reshuffling. Without those funds, teaching staff and critical programs would likely shrink dramatically. Many teachers would face larger class sizes with less support.

We know that starving public schools is no way to bring the best to all students. While we appreciate that there’s more than one way to educate children, and more than one setting, there are some basics that apply no matter the location.

We need to make sure that when we distribute resources, no child gets lost in the shuffle. Public schools have special obligations. Let’s make sure we give them, and their students, more than a fighting chance.

We will continue to urge that public funds for education, both state and federal, are wisely spent, not squandered. Our bottom line? Every child deserves an equitable and excellent education. What can you do? Make sure that your representatives protect public schools, defend their funding, and do their duty to serve all children relying on them.

Lynette Guastaferro is executive director of New York nonprofit Teaching Matters Inc.

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