Friday, April 20, 2007

The Politics of Vouchers

An interesting article by the Washington Post's Jay Mathews, who also consistently writes some of the best stuff on education (maybe 20 years ago, he wrote Escalante, an AWESOME book, and he's currently working on a book about KIPP).  He correctly highlights the importance of charter schools and captures the moral argument for vouchers, but is too quick to dismiss them:
I don’t see anything wrong with the idea itself. When I am faced with complicated political questions, I try to reduce them to conversations with the people most affected. In this case, I imagine what I would say to a single mother living in southeast DC and working as a house cleaner. I must persuade her that it would be a bad idea for the government to give her money so that she could transfer her child from his D.C. public school to a private school, like the Baptist-oriented Nannie Helen Burroughs School in Northeast DC.

I could not think of a single thing to say that would not leave me feeling guilty and deceitful. The usual argument against vouchers---that they drain needed funds from the public system---would make no sense to that mom. She was entitled to a good public education, but her local school was terrible, so the government had not kept its promise. I could not in good conscience argue that she should sacrifice her child’s education, and his future, so that DCPS could continue to spend its tax dollars on inadequate schools. And indeed, it seemed to me, if her child was no longer at the local school, that would reduce class size and perhaps give his teacher more time to focus on the other students.

So I am happy for that mom who gets to put her child in Nannie Burroughs, a well run school that charges far less than the maximum $7,500 a year under the DC voucher program. But I do not think such programs are going to solve our education crisis.
The Politics of Vouchers (Jay Mathews)

I am tired of the voucher issue. You know what I mean---the pitched political battle over whether to let parents take the tax dollars spent on their kids in public schools and use them as scholarships to attend private schools.

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