Voucher Schools

VOUCHER SCHOOLS….Greg Anrig comments on yesterday’s Florida Supreme Court decision striking down Jeb Bush’s school voucher program:

One of the great unresolved contradictions in the conservative movement’s advocacy on education is the extent to which it is demanding that public schools adhere to rigid testing requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act while simultaneously promoting voucher systems that require no reporting at all from private schools about their performance. Research into charter schools by Columbia’s Amy Stuart Wells and others is showing that providing them with autonomy while imposing accountability for results has by and large resulted in schools that look much like their conventional public counterparts.

No one has yet demonstrated that they know how to make an urban school district succeed in this country. Voucher systems, because they lack accountability, were never going to be the answer. The Florida decision is a welcome step toward focusing on possibilities that offer hope, like public school choice and Wisconsin’s own Chapter 220 program, which enables low-income urban students to attend suburban schools.

I’m a cautiously optimistic fan of charter schools, which seem to provide a decent avenue for experimenting with different ways of teaching kids while still providing common-sense levels of accountability. Voucher schools typically don’t, and while some percentage of inner city schools are going to fail no matter what, there’s a big difference between schools that are trying and failing and schools that fail because they’re essentially allowed to get away with fraud.

Bottom line: conservatives can’t have it both ways. If high-stakes testing is the be-all and end-all of education reform, then their pet voucher proposals need to include the same kind of testing requirements that they demand for public schools. And if voucher schools end up doing no better than public schools, providing little more than a safe haven for a voting bloc that wants to protect their kids from learning about evolution? Then it’s back to the drawing board.

The Florida Supremes did the right thing. Public money without public accountability is fundamentally wrong.