I’m back home now, and wanted to share a couple of interesting articles about school vouchers. Yesterday’s New York Times ran an update on voucher laws around the country. I found the article remarkably balanced, with commentary from voucher supporters and detractors. Here’s the opening paragraph:
A growing number of lawmakers across the country are taking steps to redefine public education, shifting the debate from the classroom to the pocketbook. Instead of simply financing a traditional system of neighborhood schools, legislators and some governors are headed toward funneling public money directly to families, who would be free to choose the kind of schooling they believe is best for their children, be it public, charter, private, religious, online or at home.
I wouldn’t say it’s a shift from classrooms to pocketbooks so much as a shift from government to parent control . . . but I know that many of my readers would disagree. Have at it.
Today’s Wall Street Journal published an editorial about Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to expand Wisconsin’s quite successful voucher program for disadvataged students to other districts with failing schools. Turns out he’s running into considerable opposition . . . from fellow Republicans.
Again, my own biases are showing here, but it disturbs me that politicians representing mostly well-heeled families whose kids attend strong public schools are standing in the way of reforms that could help, well, other peoples’ kids. I am posting the entire editorial, since WSJ artices can be hard for non-subscribers to get.
School vouchers are usually opposed by teachers unions and their Democratic allies, but a dirty little secret is that some suburban Republicans oppose them too. The latter is the case in Wisconsin, where GOP Governor Scott Walker’s plan to get more kids out of failing schools is facing opposition from short-sighted members of his own party.
The Badger State’s 22-year-old voucher program currently covers Milwaukee and Racine. But in his budget for fiscal 2014-15, Mr. Walker wants to expand it to nine of the state’s worst school districts and increase funding by 9%. Under the proposed formula, students in districts that have at least two schools that get a D or F on their 2011-2012 performance report cards could use a voucher at a private school.
The plan would cover 500 new students in the first year, 1,000 in the second, and thereafter as many as qualified under the formula, which extends the voucher to students in failing schools whose families make 300% of the poverty level. The new areas include Beloit, Green Bay, Kenosha, Waukesha and Fond du Lac, and more than 40,000 children who currently attend lousy public schools would be eligible.
That should please Neenah Republican and Wisconsin Senate President Mike Ellis, who last year called Green Bay’s Preble High School a “sewer.” But Mr. Ellis has instead promised to block Mr. Walker’s proposal, saying that the Governor had not respected the input of eight or 10 Republicans who didn’t want more vouchers in the budget. “This is phase one of a wide-open school voucher program for the state,” Mr. Ellis moans.
But what would be wrong with that? According to the School Choice Demonstration Project, 94% of students who have received vouchers in Milwaukee graduate from high school, compared to 75% from the Milwaukee public schools. They’re also more likely to go to college.
While Wisconsin schools score better than most, in 2010 the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that Wisconsin’s black fourth grade students had the worst reading scores in the country. By eighth grade, black students did worse on English tests than students for whom English was a second language.
Unions are rolling out the usual canard that vouchers steal funds from public schools, though research shows that competition from charter schools and vouchers often causes traditional public schools to improve. The state money would follow the student, but the $6,442 voucher is far less than the $13,269 it currently costs to educate a child in traditional public schools. Voucher funding has been relatively unchanged for a decade, so Mr. Walker’s proposal would be a moderate expansion.
One reason school reform has been so politically difficult is that too many suburban parents think the problem is confined to inner-city schools when their own schools fail to educate thousands. Republicans too often play to this conceit, especially when it means they can win union support. Mr. Walker has put the GOP on the right side of the reform debate, and his party should get behind him.