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Monday, June 21, 2004

Battle School Vouchers - Iron Blogger Democrat - Opening Statement

I expect to be Iron Blogger Democrat for a while, though I serve at the pleasure of the Chairman, of course. And there are some topics that probably will come up in my Iron Blog tenure that I couldn't care less about. Capital gains taxes, for instance. Bow hunting. 80s music.

But this--this is personal. I live and work in ground zero for the school voucher debate. My taxes as a city of Milwaukee resident pay for students here to learn about Jesus in private schools. My classroom as a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher is populated with students who have been in and out of choice schools. I have friends, in the schools and in other lines of work, the bulk of whose activist time is spent writing about and lobbying against the voucher program. This is not just an Iron Blog debate for me--this is my life.

I don't know exactly where the Challenger will go with this--when we tangled briefly on this issue before, he wrote:
If the cost [of private voucher schools] is the same to the state, or less, then why should it matter where my child receives his or her education? Isn't the point to educate the children? It is to me, but apparently not to you. You aren't satisfied unless that child is being educated by a card-carrying dues-paying member of [the teachers' union]. I'm more concerned about my child's education--not the building in which it takes place.
This lays out, as the Challenger is, apparently, wont to do, a broad philosophical argument without reference to what has actually happened in the voucher laboratory we call Milwaukee.

The Chairman, too, navigates a wide river of philosophical questions: "School choice, or school abandonment? Can the public and private systems compete fairly? Is the public system failing, or is the system currently set up to fail?" These questions also do not acknowledge that we have practical experience with vouchers.

I found myself criticizing Iron Blogger Republican Rosemary Esmay in her last outing because she defended capital punishment as it could be--in its idealized state. The Challenger seems likely to do the same here: Isn't it great to give parents a choice, he might ask, neglecting the problems that abound in those choice schools. The Chairman's questions, if we assume that the flaws in real voucher systems didn't exist, can all be answered on the side of choice, too.

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.

I will debate this issue with the actual data we have, which show, at best, that voucher students do no better than public school counterparts (.pdf link) and at worst--well, at worst there is no data, because voucher schools are not required to collect any or report it if they do.

I will debate this issue with choice schools all around me, schools that are not meeting special education guidelines requiring them to provide expensive services to special needs students that public schools can't avoid; choice schools that pick and choose, even when they are not supposed to, only the best students for their programs and dump the rest back into MPS after the checks have cleared.

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.

I will debate this issue with more than a decade of actual vouchers in an actual city behind me, and the legacy of that decade will demonstrate that vouchers have not been a cure-all--not even a cure-some--to the education problems facing Milwaukee.

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.

Respectfully submitted,
Jay Bullock, Iron Blogger Democrat

(This may be the shortest Iron Blog post I will ever write--but I have family in from out of town until Wednesday. Apologies to those expecting, based on past experience, a 3000-word screed . . .)
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