04 June 2009

Milwaukee School Vouchers: Democrat Party Kowtows To Another Special Interest

I know lots of teachers. Many of my friends are teachers. They know I am a friend to good teachers everywhere.

I am also, however, an enemy of unions generally and teachers' unions specifically. Their goal is not the improvement of education, but the guarantee of employment and ever-increasing pay and benefits for all teachers, regardless of performance. Additionally, these folks see their union positions as opportunity to exert political influence.

Brendan Miniter called school choice "the new Civil Rights struggle." Indeed, it is. Given the disintegration of low-income families--especially minority families--school choice and the opportunities a good education affords may be the best chance many of these children have.

Democrats and teachers' unions want to kill every voucher, scholarship, school choice program they can. They already did away with the one in Washington DC--a program that helped thousands of low-income students avoid failing schools. Milwaukee's wildly successful voucher program is next on their list.
At the National Press Club last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he opposed school choice: “Let me explain why. Vouchers usually serve 1 to 2 percent of the children in a community. . . . But I don’t want to save 1 or 2 percent of children and let 98, 99 percent down.” It was a bizarre statement: Why not simply let more than 1 or 2 percent enjoy the benefits of school choice? In Milwaukee, they actually do. It’s the largest urban school-choice program in the country, dwarfing the size of the one in Washington, D.C., whose de-funding by congressional Democrats has drawn so much criticism. Roughly one in five of Milwaukee’s school-age children receive vouchers. All of them must fall below an income threshold. Researchers say that the program is beginning to show systemic effects. In other words, it doesn’t merely help its participants. It also gives a lift to non-voucher students because the pressure of competition has forced public schools to improve.
The principle is choice--liberty, really--applied to education. When I speak to union-enthusiast teaching friends of mine, they talk endlessly about some new initiative or program that will make public education better.

The point of adding choice and competition to education is that these things will introduce the flexibility and incentive into education that will empower teachers and administrators and parents and students to find the education that best suits them.

One-size-fits-all public education doesn't achieve the egalitarian utopia in which its adherents believe, it holds the smart kids back and leaves those who need extra or specialized attention behind.

If the Democrat party really were, as it says, "for the children," it would resist the influence of campaign contributions from teachers' unions and wholeheartedly endorse choice in education.

If you have tips, questions, comments or suggestions, email me at lybberty@gmail.com.