Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor of the Washington, DC Public School system, writes a very interesting article in The Daily Beast. She describes her conversion on private school vouchers. She is a Democrat, so she came to the table adamantly opposed to vouchers, but she changed her mind after talking to a slew of individual parents who just wanted their children to attend the best school possible. Here is a bit of her piece (click here to read the whole thing):
But I drew a very deep line in the sand when it came to vouchers. As a lifelong Democrat I was adamantly against vouchers. Vouchers provide public funds to parents who need help in paying tuition for private or parochial schools. Proponents, mostly Republicans, see vouchers as leveling the field and broadening choice for families. Detractors, usually Democrats, decry the use of public funds to pay for private education. I had bought into the arguments that Democrats and others use in opposition to vouchers: vouchers are a way of taking money away from public school systems and putting them into private schools; vouchers help only a handful of the kids; and vouchers take children and resources away from the schools and districts that need those resources the most.
For all of those reasons, my view on vouchers was set. But soon after I arrived in Washington, D.C., I was in a pickle. The District of Columbia had Opportunity Scholarships, a federally funded voucher program that helped poor families attend private schools. The program was up for reauthorization, and there was a heated debate going on in the city….
Who am I, I thought, to deny this mom and her child an opportunity for a better school, even if that meant help with a seventy-five-hundred-dollar voucher? If they got a voucher, and her child could attend a really good Catholic school, perhaps, why would I stand in the way—especially since I don’t have a high-quality DCPS alternative?…
Here’s the question we Democrats need to ask ourselves: Are we beholden to the public school system at any cost, or are we beholden to the public school child at any cost? My loyalty and my duty will always be to the children.
Read the whole interesting story. I think the logic on this issue is pretty straightforward. If we want all our children to get a good education, and all taxpayers are contributing to this goal, and private schools or home schools are performing better, I don't see why we would want to deny children the opportunity to go to the best-performing schools. Every tax-paying parent contributes to this broader goal of educating the youth - why not allow them to use "their portion" to provide their child with what they deem to be the best education possible?
It seems that the Democrat argument against vouchers is that vouchers will take away money from the public system. But if the public system is failing our children, why should we subsidize its failure? Moreover, we have seen time and again over the years that increased spending on education across the nation does not produce the results you would expect. Dollars do not equal better grades. Public schools would have to cut their budgets, but I would be interested to see if grades really fall as a result of such cuts. The broad statistics would say otherwise.
I see no problem with providing a flat-rate voucher to help support those parents who would enroll their child in a private school or homeschool, particularly since these alternatives frequently provide better results. Attach comparative-testing-strings if you want, but at least open up the option. Sadly, I imagine that's just the problem: the entrenched public education interests are terrified of just how many parents would choose the alternative option over the schools they've provided.