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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Battle School Vouchers - Challenger - First Rebuttal

I'm not entirely sure where to start rebutting the esteemed Iron Blogger's opening statement, because he never actually puts forth an argument. In his 705 word opening, he manages to tell us that he "will debate this issue," but never actually puts forth an argument as to why he opposes School Vouchers. As far as I can tell, he opposes them because of some issues regarding Milwaukee's implementation of vouchers. Does that mean that he would support vouchers if they were implemented differently? Perhaps he will tell us in a later rebuttal.

I approached the topic in my opening from a wider angle because philosophy matters. Jay can preach on and on about how Milwaukee's voucher program is good or bad (I'll address that in a few minutes), but the debate is about School Vouchers - not Milwaukee's version of them. Milwaukee has chosen a particular way to execute the idea of School Vouchers. Before we can discuss how to execute an idea, shouldn't we first debate the idea itself?

In any case, for the sake of providing an actual rebuttal of Jay's opening, let's walk through it one step at a time.

Jay begins his opening statement by declaring that this is a personal issue for him because he is a public school teacher in Milwaukee, which has implemented a voucher program. Ummm... ok. Fair enough. Nothing to bicker about there.

Jay then continues by accurately predicting that I would take a wider philosophical approach to the topic than he. This is an amazing piece of insight, especially considering that I stated as much in my challenge. He links to our debate about a wide range of education topics and picks out the applicable quote from me where I argue for vouchers. He chastises me for tackling the issue with a "broad philosophical argument" instead of addressing the specific mechanics of Milwaukee's voucher program. Don't get me wrong, it is important to look at Milwaukee's voucher program as a learning device, but there is a world outside of Milwaukee. There are other places where vouchers have been implemented with varying results. There are even other countries that have tried similar programs. Yes, Jay, we do have practical experience with vouchers, but no, that experience is not limited to Milwaukee.

Jay then offers up this gem:



But I will debate this issue not in the lofty philosophical arena, but down here, on the ground, where real kids go to real choice schools run by real convicted rapists, embezzlers, and charlatans.


Well isn't that special? Again, I have to question why the venerated Iron Blogger seeks to restrict the debate to such a confined space. His backhanded assertion that choice schools are somehow crime-ridden cesspools as compared to public schools, doesn't carry much weight.

Jay's next statement on what he will debate, but doesn't actually debate, is that "voucher students do no better than public school counterparts." Well then, what's the harm of vouchers exactly? But Jay did not disclose all of the findings of the GAO study that he cited. Here is what it said:



The contract researcher teams for Cleveland and Milwaukee found little or no statistically significant differences in voucher students’ achievement test scores compared to public school students, but other investigators found that voucher students did better in some subject areas tested. None of the findings can be considered definitive because the researchers obtained different results when they used different methods to compensate for weaknesses in the data.


In fact, some studies have shown that voucher programs lead to better educated children, but the results vary depending on how we slice and dice the data. What none of the studies show is that vouchers harm the children's education. At the very least, we can conclude that, at the very worst, vouchers do no harm.

Jay laments the lack of data on some voucher programs because of a lack of testing. I remind Jay that the parents have the highest interest in the education of their children and would not have used the vouchers if they were happy with the education that their children were receiving from their public school. I know that I see every test, every assignment, every project, and every report card that my children bring home. I know the quality of education that they are receiving without the results of a standardized test. I do find it ironic that a public school teacher whose union passionately opposes rigorous standardized tests is so livid about the lack of testing of private schools.

In Jay's next paragraph, he cites the liberal People For The American Way's article which states that voucher schools in Milwaukee are not accepting and servicing the needs of special-needs kids. I have no doubt that that is true. One must remember that voucher schools are private schools and have the right to maintain their admissions requirements. It is a symptom of the poorly implemented Milwaukee voucher program that causes voucher schools to turn away kids with special needs. In Milwaukee, the voucher is for $5,500 regardless of the cost of educating that child. The public school spends an average of $11,772 per pupil. If Milwaukee would pass along the actual dollar amount that it would have to spend to educate a special-needs child to the voucher school, then I'm sure that they would accept more of them. It hardly seems fair that Milwaukee is complaining that private schools won't accept $5,500 to educate a special-needs student when Milwaukee would spend 3 or 4 times that amount.

In the same paragraph, Jay laments the "cream of the crop" effect whereby voucher schools tend to only accept the better students and "dump the rest" (Jay's words) back into the public school system. Again, voucher schools are private schools. They can accept or reject whomever they choose. This is, by the way, why my wife opposes school vouchers. She fears that the government may force private schools to accept students that it would otherwise not accept, thus leading to a declining quality of life at the private school. This is, apparently, what Jay would advocate. Again, I think that if the government would release all of the money that it contends is necessary to educate the child, I suspect that there would be an entire swath of schools geared for middle and lower achieving students. Furthermore, there are plenty of schools that take all comers, like parochial schools. More on that later.

Here is Jay's next paragraph:



I will debate this issue in the real halls of a real state legislature which has seen a voucher law--a law originally written by an African American woman, a Democrat, representing the poorest of the poor, central city, minority families--hijacked by white, suburban, movement-conservative Republicans in an attempt to subsidize the religious education of children whose public schools are not failing.


So let me get this straight... school vouchers are a good idea when advocated by Black, inner-city, female Democrats, but they are bad idea when advocated by white, suburban Republicans? If an idea has merit, wouldn't it have merit regardless of the advocate? Of course it would. Even now, school choice is supported by an overwhelming majority from almost every demographic including Blacks, Hispanics, Whites, Liberals, and Conservatives. I would encourage the Iron Blogger Democrat to debate the issue, not the people supporting it.

We have both been dancing around the issue of religion, so I suppose that this as good a time as any to address it. I hesitate to get into it too deeply, because it is really an entirely separate debate. The question is whether or not tax dollars going to a religious school constitutes a violation of the separation between Church and State. My short argument is that the division between Church and State, which is in fact tradition and not Constitutional, is intended to prevent the State from compelling people to be a member of a particular religion in order to obtain the services of the State. In many countries before ours, people would have to belong to the State religion in order to serve in office and such. When tax dollars go to a religious institution, the State is not forcing the religion upon anyone. Furthermore, the line between religion and secularism is perilously thin. When public schools stop teaching kids to worship Gaia and such nonsense, then I will listen to their arguments more seriously.

In the waning sentences of Jay's opening, he states that, “vouchers have not been a cure-all--not even a cure-some--to the education problems facing Milwaukee." Jay's earlier evidence said that vouchers either had no effect on education whatsoever, or even had marginal positive effects. This would indicate to me that vouchers are at the very least a "cure some" - especially for those kids within the margin of error who are happier with their education.

Finally, Jay offers us this paragraph:



In short, I don't need to debate the finer points of hypotheticals and theoreticals, because I have seen vouchers in action. And if you could see what I have seen, you would know that vouchers are not the answer.


Yes, Jay, you do need to debate the hypotheticals and theoreticals. Milwaukee has implemented a voucher system in one method among thousands of other methods. It is not the end all and be all of the School Voucher debate. Your last sentence insinuates that the arguments of those of us who support vouchers, and are not public school teachers in Milwaukee, are somehow not valid because you know better. It is precisely that kind of condescending arrogance that has fueled voucher supporter from the onset.

At the end of Jay's opening statement, I think I can conclude that he does not support Milwaukee's school voucher program. I'm still a little befuddled as to whether or not he supports school vouchers or not, but as he says, he "will debate" it in the near future. I look forward to his promised argument.

Humbly submitted,

Owen
The Challenger

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