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Research & Commentary: Strike Vouchers Would Help Keep Vermont Children in Classrooms During Teacher Walkouts

September 20, 2017

Strike Vouchers Make Sure As Many Children As Possible Are Freed From Outside Forces Controlling Their Education

The 400 teachers belonging to the Burlington Education Association (BEA), an affiliate of the National Education Association, the country’s largest union and special interest group, went on strike for four days in September, leaving roughly 4,000 students locked out of their classrooms. The latest contract between the district and the union had ended on August 31.

Students suffer when teachers are out of their classrooms. A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows 10 days of teacher absences over the course of a school year can significantly reduce student achievement in mathematics. Teacher absences, the study found, “radically reduced … instructional intensity” by creating “discontinuities of instruction [and] the disruption of regular routines and procedures of the classroom.” (Over 28 percent of teachers in traditional public schools are also chronically absentee, according to a brief from the Fordham Institute, meaning they miss at least 10 days of school a year.)

In addition, time children spend out of the classroom is time in which previous gains in achievement begin to atrophy, and this is especially true of low-income students. Whereas most students come into a new school year having lost some of the gains made in mathematics and reading during the previous school year, research has shown low-income students tend to lose more ground over summer break than their higher-income peers. (Nearly 70 percent of Burlington students qualified for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program in the 2015–16 school year, according to the district.)

Parents should not have to watch their children be used as pawns in a struggle over money. To shift the focus back to the students, Vermont policymakers consider creating a “strike voucher” and “student opportunity scholarship (SOS) accounts” to help students during and after a teachers strike.

Starting on the first day of a teacher walkout, the strike voucher would give any student currently enrolled in a public school in a district where teachers are on strike access to a safe place where learning could continue. Any charter, private, or parochial school in the district with the room to enroll additional students would be given a stipend of $50 per day for each strike-displaced student it takes in. Other non-school institutions, such as libraries, museums, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and similar private organizations, also could participate and apply for the strike vouchers.

The second stage of protecting students in the event of an extended strike is allowing parents to transition from strike vouchers to education savings accounts (ESAs) if the strike extends beyond nine days. The student opportunity scholarship account would be a mechanism to encourage independent schools to take in as many strike voucher students as possible. Families could convert temporary strike vouchers into SOS accounts on the tenth school day of a strike. SOS accounts would allow parents to turn their children’s temporary placement at independent schools into actual enrollment at those schools.

[For information on how strike vouchers and SOS accounts would be funded, please consult the Heartland Policy Brief linked here.]

Strikes are a part of the natural order in the collective bargaining process. When teachers strike, however, the children are always the losers. Teachers unions currently face no significant repercussions for walking out of their classrooms. For union members, a strike is a mild interruption, but for students and parents, it is a massive disruption. Teachers unions have made a habit of using children as pawns. Under this strike voucher plan, the unions would be charged daily for each of the thousands of students it abandoned who takes advantage of the strike voucher, giving them an incentive to reconsider their penchant for walking off the job.

The very existence of the strike voucher and SOS accounts may make teachers strikes less likely. Knowing their students could use strike vouchers to leave their public schools and never come back might be enough to make a union like BEA think twice about locking students out of their schools in the first place.

The goal of strike vouchers and SOS accounts is to make sure as many children as possible will be freed from forces outside of their control standing in the way of their continuing education. All parents, no matter their income, would be allowed to ensure their children have the opportunity to attend a safe and effective school, free from the continual tug-of-war between school districts and teachers unions, of which they are frequently caught in the middle.

The following documents provide more information about strike vouchers, SOS accounts, and other forms of school choice.

Saving Chicago Students: Strike Vouchers and SOS Accounts
This Heartland Policy Brief examines why teachers are threatening to strike, the history of teacher strikes in Illinois, and the performance and financial challenges faced by students, their parents, and the taxpayers of Illinois. A three-part plan to save Chicago students is presented. It consists of: (a) “strike vouchers” – payments of $50 per student per day to organizations willing to open their doors to students locked out of public schools; (b) “student opportunity scholarship (SOS) accounts” – parent-controlled savings accounts into which public funds raised for schools are deposited and from which disbursements to alternative education providers are allowed; and (c) the expansion of Illinois’ current individual education tax credit program, by raising the maximum amount of the allowable credit and extending eligibility to include corporations and individuals who contribute to scholarship management organizations.  

School Choice in Vermont: A 150-Year-Old System that Leads to a Brighter Future
This report from the Ethan Allen Institute is both a summary and an expansion on the themes explored in three debates considering the proper role of government in education with the Public Assets Institute. The two sides contrasted Vermont’s publicly funded school choice system, known as “town tuitioning,” with the traditional government-run school systems commonly found throughout the country. National school choice issues and the unique challenges facing Vermont’s education system are addressed in this paper.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by EdChoice details the vast body of research on educational choice programs, determining school choice improves academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal educational savings account (ESA) programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

Competition: For the Children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.

School Choice: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About State Constitutions’ Religion Clauses
This resource, authored by Richard D. Komer of the Institute for Justice, serves as an excellent primer on Blaine amendments, compelled support clauses, and other state constitutional religious clauses.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact John Nothdurft, Heartland’s director of government relations, at or 312/377-4000.

Tim Benson joined The Heartland Institute in September 2015 as a policy analyst in the Government Relations Department. @BenceAthwart
Lennie Jarratt is the project manager for the Center for Transforming Education at The Heartland Institute. @LennieJarratt