Setting the record straight on vouchers

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON VOUCHERS…. In last night’s debate, for the first time in the general election, we saw a reasonably substantive discussion about education policy. Voters, who tend to oppose vouchers by wide margins, got to hear about John McCain’s support for public funds paying tuition at private schools.

“I’m sure you’re aware, Sen. Obama, of the program in the Washington, D.C., school system where vouchers are provided and there’s a certain number, I think it’s a thousand and some and some 9,000 parents asked to be eligible for that.

“Because they wanted to have the same choice that you and I and Cindy and your wife have had. And that is because they wanted to choose the school that they thought was best for their children. And we all know the state of the Washington, D.C., school system. That was vouchers. That was voucher, Sen. Obama. And I’m frankly surprised you didn’t pay more attention to that example. […]

“I’ve got to tell you that vouchers, where they are requested and where they are agreed to, are a good and workable system. And it’s been proven.”

I realize domestic policy isn’t McCain’s strong point, but he couldn’t be more wrong about this. The D.C. voucher program that McCain is so fond of is a complete mess. (It wasn’t, by the way, “requested”; it was imposed on the city by Bush and Republicans in Congress.)

Last fall we learned that after Congress handed over tax dollars to unregulated private schools in D.C. without conditions, taxpayers ended up financing unaccredited schools, “unsuitable learning environments,” schools with no operating permits, and schools where teachers didn’t even have bachelor’s degrees. Worse yet, a report from the administration released over the summer found that students in D.C. who received vouchers didn’t do any better academically, either.

Of course, it’s not just Washington, D.C. As Greg Anrig recently explained in a terrific piece for the Washington Monthly, voucher “experiments” have failed to deliver the results proponents expected, and as a result, a lot of conservative activists are slowly but surely giving up on the idea altogether.

To borrow McCain’s phrase, I’m frankly surprised he hasn’t paid more attention to this.