When Good Policy Falls Due to Politics Anthony Stasi
Most students of good government policy look at school vouchers programs with a degree of skepticism. Vouchers that would allow a student to attend a private institution can make civil libertarians worry that government money might fund a religious based school. Another concern about vouchers is that as public funding comes into a private school, will the private schools lose the much needed control they have over the academic process? Teachers unions are another major roadblock to voucher programs. Unions know that once students in poorly performing schools get a taste of private education, the public school system, as the lumbering and wobbly machine that it can be, is at risk. And that’s a system that works for careers, even if it fails children at times.
Vouchers are a hot button issue, and the concerns are understandable. Our current economic times, however, are an opportunity to try new things. Washington DC has an experimental vouchers program that was put in place by the Republican controlled congress five years ago. It was an experiment. The kids in this school district had nothing to lose. Their public school system had failed them. Now, the children and parents want this program to remain. But the current congress has no intention of extending the voucher program. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, (D-Washington DC) said to the Washington Post, “I can tell you that the Democratic Congress is not about to extend this program."
Give credit to congressional Democrats for sticking to their guns on the issue. But what is the consequence when they shut this program down? After all of the ‘Thank You’ notes from the opponents of the program (none of whom have children in these poorly performing schools) are sent to congress, these kids get sent back to schools that have not improved since their exodus to better education five years ago.
Remember that the kids in this district were in such a bad school district that this program was attempted in the first place, and it is welcomed by the current DC schools’ chancellor Michelle Rhee – appointed by Democratic Mayor of Washington DC Adrian Fenty. Any member of congress that votes to send these kids back to a failing school should be willing to send their children to these schools.
Perhaps as a national educational program vouchers are not the answer. Maybe some of the opponents are right. But in a situation where it is hopeless – where everything else has been tried – why not give kids in a rough area a chance?
Michelle Rhee is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. She has taught in Baltimore and Washington. She started The New Teacher Project that recruited 10,000 new teachers in 20 states. She was told recently that she had to prepare to re-enroll the students that will have to come back to the public system, once the current congress lets this program fizzle out in the fall of 2010. Her words, "I don't think vouchers are going to solve all the ills of public education, but parents who are zoned to schools that are failing kids should have options to do better by their kids."
This is not about helping rich kids get richer. It’s about helping poor children not get poorer.