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Current Battle: Election 2004






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Saturday, June 26, 2004

Battle School Vouchers - Iron Blogger Democrat - Closing Statement

Before I close, let me thank all of you who deserve it: The Chairman, for putting up with my crap enough to keep me on as IBD (and for letting this debate--for the first time ever--go uniterrupted with "Important Notes from the Chairman"); the judges, for following all the links and paying attention even when through my tortured metaphors; and the Challenger, Owen, the closest thing I have to an arch-nemesis, whom I finally have had the chance to duke it out with in an appropriate forum. This has been a fun week, the Challenger and the comments have kept me on my toes, and I have no doubt that the result will be close.

In many ways, I wish that school vouchers had not been the topic. I'm too close to it, too wrapped up in the minutiae of the multi-faceted failure that Milwaukee's school choice program has been. In many ways, I regret staking out such stark non-philosophical territory in my Opening Statement, as what I'm left with, looking back, is a sad trail of failure--a litany of lost years of schooling and misdirected tax funds. I can't take a high road, or stand on a high horse, as everything I have brought to this debate has been the very real, but very negative. I'm even more pessimistic and cynical now that I have lived deeper in this topic than before for the last week.

In other words, it's hard to be the Cassandra in this debate, and it's quite the contrast from my last debate.

But I must bring this to a close, and I think I will use the Challenger's words as a jumping off point. In his last rebuttal, he wrote,
He has argued that we need more accountability from voucher schools. I agree. He has argued that some voucher systems have not lived up to some expectations. I agree. He has argued that we need to be cautious about trampling on schools’ religious and secular freedoms. I agree. He has not, however, argued against school vouchers. If we could come up with compromises on each of his objections, would he support school vouchers? If so, then he does not oppose school vouchers, he opposes how they have been implemented up until now. If not, then I suspect that all of the objections regarding accountability and results are merely a smokescreen for a less attractive, more basic objection.
Here, the Challenger makes explicit and tacit admissions that we haven't gotten vouchers right yet. This reminds me, again, of the losing argument posited by Iron Blogger Republican in the last Battle about the death penalty--if we could remove any chance that anything will go wrong, she posited, it will be okay!

That, and the Challenger's parallel argument here, is absurd: Vouchers in Wisconsin--and Florida and Cleveland and New Zealand--are already so watered down with partisan compromises because they couldn't have happened in the first place otherwise. Look where that has gotten us. And in order to satisfy all of my objections to vouchers, the Challenger would have to make concessions he opposes with all of his "private schools can do what they want" talk. Plus, the Challenger did not adequately explain how tremendous levels of State intrusion into religious schools' operation is not an Establishment issue. Nor has he explained how the State's commitment to provide a free education to everybody is not already fair.

But the Challenger is right; I suppose that I do have a "basic objection" to vouchers. It stems not only from the overwhelming evidence that programs don't work as designed, but also from an deeply rooted belief that our children are not commodities. Our children are not chemicals in some experiment we're conducting. Our children are not pawns in some ideological game.

Our children deserve a quality education, and any diversions from, er, fixing our pitcher, don't get us there.

Respectfully submitted,
Jay Bullock, Iron Blogger Democrat
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Battle School Vouchers - Challenger - Closing Statement

The Iron Blogger Democrat’s argument against school vouchers is a classic case of making the perfect the enemy of the good. His metaphorical pitcher of water is a vivid image. In the end, he says, “While some of your water is safer now, much of it isn't. And in all your efforts to pour out the water, your pitcher hasn't gotten any better.” Perhaps your pitcher does not get any better and perhaps the glasses of the Glass Man are equally bad, but some of the water made it into the pristine glasses. Jay would deny any of the water a chance to be in the pristine glasses for fear of the Glass Man’s glasses.

I have not denied that some school voucher programs have some problems. I, for instance, would only allow established, proven private schools to participate in the voucher program. But some kids are better off. Isn’t making education better for some kids better than doing nothing at all? Welfare agencies are riddled with fraud and corruption. Should we abandon them completely, and the people that they help, because of a few rogues out there? No, we shouldn’t. We should work to fix them.

Judging by the Iron Blogger’s argument, he would support school vouchers if we could make them work better. Let us make them work better then. If he is demanding 100% success, then he is setting an unreasonable standard. If we were to hold the public school system to a standard of 100% success, we would have abandoned it years ago.

But I will try to resist the urge to write a third rebuttal, and instead write a closing.

I stated earlier that philosophy matters. It does. What we have in the case of school vouchers is yet another battle between liberty and government control. The opponents of school vouchers are uncomfortable with relinquishing some of the government’s control of education. They are fearful that private schools will not perform their function without rigorous government oversight and control. They do not support school vouchers because they could not get the level of government control in private schools without trampling on long-held and long-defended private property rights and religious freedom.

When people band together “in order to form a more perfect union,” there is an inevitable surrender of some rights. Without government, everyone would retain their complete set of natural rights and could live in harmony as long as everyone understood and acted only within the boundaries set by their rights. For instance, two farmers could live next door to each other and as long as each farmer respected the line dividing their respective properties, they would live in peace. The problem is that human nature is such that we are imperfect animals. We can be greedy, spiteful, hateful, jealous, and downright nasty to each other. In a government-free society, the two farmers might have a boundary dispute, and without an arbiter, may end up killing each other.

For this reason, people set up governments among themselves. The government’s purpose is to be the controlling authority when individuals’ rights collide or are violated. The primary role of government is to set predefined rules for resolving collisions of rights (rule of law) and to enforce those rules. To do this, we grant the government the exclusive authority to use coercive means. We permit our government to imprison, fine, confiscate, and even kill, yet forbid individuals from doing any of these. So, we surrender some of our natural rights to government in order to enforce some peace and stability in our society. Because the rights of all individuals are equal, the government must always perform its function in a way that applies equally all citizens.

Government’s secondary role can be to enact the public will. This is the case with education. It is the public’s will that the people be educated to some minimal standard that will allow them to be good stewards of their society and have the intellectual tools necessary to function without becoming a burden to the society as a whole. In order to accomplish this goal, we have created a massive public school infrastructure and we use the coercive power of government to make attending school mandatory.

The issue is that government’s secondary role cannot trump its primary role. We may use the power of government to force kids to attend school, but we may not trample on the rights of the parents to send their kids to the school of their choice. We have in America, as we have always had; a government bound, gagged, and restrained by the chains of our individual liberty. This is as it should be.

In the case of education, we have tasked our government with using its coercive power in order to provide an education to every child, yet government can’t force the kids to attend the public schools. How is the government to fulfill its responsibility to every child if a child goes to a private school? School vouchers. School vouchers are government’s way of meeting its responsibilities regarding education for every child without violating the natural rights of parents to educate their children in the manner of their choosing.

Let’s bring it down a notch for a moment, shall we? In reality, the children of the wealthy have always had school choice. The children of the wealthy have always attended the best schools – even when they don’t meet the requirements – and always will. My children go to a private parochial school. My wife and I choose not to send our children to the local public school for a variety of reasons that are not the business of government. I am fortunate that the school that my children attend is one where the church picks up the lion’s share of the cost, which keeps tuition very reasonable. If we had to pay the full cost, we could not afford it. Furthermore, parents donate their time and energy for janitorial services, equipment repair, classroom necessities, etc. in order to keep the school affordable. Not everyone is as fortunate as me or as successful as the wealthy. What school vouchers do is provide the less fortunate and less successful in our society with the opportunity to educate their children in a manner which they believe will give their kids the best education possible.

Do we need some accountability with school voucher programs? Yes. Do we need to filter out the charlatans and inept? You bet. Do we need to continue to improve and fund our public schools? Definitely. Do we need to use school vouchers as one arrow in the quiver of education policy? Absolutely – we must.


I would like to thank the Iron Blogger Democrat for the vigorous debate, the Chairman for providing the forum, and the readers for wading through the arguments. May there always be a plentiful supply of toilet paper in your public restrooms.

Respectfully submitted,

Owen
The Challenger

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Friday, June 25, 2004

Battle School Vouchers - Iron Blogger Democrat - Second Rebuttal

Again, the Challenger has bravely called me out to answer a question. This time, it's why do I oppose school vouchers? See, I thought I made that clear in my Opening Statement. But it seems the Challenger missed it, so I'll have at it one more time. Before I do, though, let me quote the Challenger, and remind everyone why he does support vouchers.
I support school vouchers because we, The People, have tasked the State with providing our children a quality education. Given that individual parents retain the right to choose the education path for our children and the State should provide the means of education to all children equally, the State should issue vouchers for parents to educate their children in the quality school of their choice.
When I describe Milwaukee's voucher program metaphorically (I am an English teacher, you know), I say, imagine you have a pitcher of water. An imperfect pitcher--leaky, cracked, a little dirty, even. You want to get the water out of that pitcher before it's too far gone to drink. Luckily, there are some beautiful, pristine, perfect drinking glasses there with the pitcher. And, though each of those glasses already holds some water, there is room in those glasses for more.

But once those drinking glasses have been filled, you're still left with almost all of the water you started with in that same dangerous pitcher. Luckily (again), the Glass Man comes along and offers you some more glasses into which you can pour water. Let me see the glasses, you say to the Glass Man. No, he says; turns out, he'd rather you just trust him. Look at that pitcher, he says. Anything I have must be better, no?

You agree to take the Glass Man's glasses, sight unseen, and pour your water into them. But once you get the water poured, you can see that these new glasses are not all like those first, perfect vessels you poured your water into. Some of these are dirty, some others cracked and chipped, many leaking as badly as your pitcher or even worse. While some of your water is safer now, much of it isn't. And in all your efforts to pour out the water, your pitcher hasn't gotten any better.

This is what has happened in Milwaukee: While there are many quality private schools with long-established track records of success here--the schools voucher advocates point to and say, "See, wouldn't it be nice if every family could afford to send their children there?"--the available space in those schools fills quickly. It is these schools that violate the spirit and the letter of the law by cherry-picking the best from the voucher applicants.

But beyond those quality schools, we have created a cottage industry here in Milwaukee, a situation where anyone--literally, anyone--who takes a notion can hang out a shingle, ask his friends and family to be "teachers," and start collecting taxpayers' money. And in any conceivable voucher situation anywhere, this same process will repeat itself, as the quality private or parochial schools in the area quickly fill their empty seats and the state is left with voucher families it must satisfy. Private schools taking voucher money will multiply like proverbial rabbits.

I quoted the Challenger's rationale in full above because in it, he uses a particular word twice: quality. What has happened here in Milwaukee, in this growth industry we call choice schools, is an utter breakdown in quality control. Not every voucher school is going to be as good as those long-standing private and religious schools that inspire hope and pride--very few, in fact, in their early years of operation will even come close. And the fact that the door of this industry is open to any and all comers is just asking for trouble.

In my opening, I cited three egregious recent examples. The Challenger countered with a few citations of bad public school teachers, but I ask you to compare the several million-large pool of public school teachers to the 111 Milwaukee choice school administrators--you would expect to find a greater raw number of bad apples among the teachers. But at least there are safeguards in place to try to prevent bad teacher behavior; it wasn't until the past year that the state of Wisconsin finally considered such simple precautions as background checks for choice school employees, and they just approved them in March. Remember, this is a program that has been in place since 1990.

The Challenger has not pressed the issue of "white, suburban, movement-conservative Republicans" that I raised in my Opening, and that's okay, as I admit is was perhaps too provocative. But those legislators, the ones Democrat Annette Polly Williams found herself strange bedfellows with in creating the program and expanding the program, were the ones who stripped accountability provisions from the bill expanding the Milwaukee program to include religious schools in 1995--in part for the same Establishment Clause reasons I mentioned in my First Rebuttal.

But the list of problems is not limited to those three schools I named in my opening. From the first few months, and throughout the 1990s, and to the present, choice schools have collapsed, folded, imploded, or just plain been run into the ground by the clueless folk in charge. Who picks up the pieces when this happens, without reimbursement from the state? That's right--the public schools.

And just so we're clear: These schools are not being shut down by parents pulling their kids out, and they are not being shut down by the state for failing to meet minimum academic standards. Only one school in recent memory has been forcibly closed, the Mandella School of Science and Math, and that was only after the school's landlord brought action in court for rent delinquency. (And, in a twisted something or other, Mandella is still on the list of schools participating in the program next year that I downloaded from the state's website this morning!)

Perhaps this is why the Challenger thought I contradicted myself when I noted the contrast between masses of parents abandoning the program and how few schools actually close. This is not a contradiction--it is a frightening confirmation that market forces are not working to improve education in Milwaukee. Think of it--thousands of parents pulling their students out of bad schools and yet those schools stay open.

The sad case of Alex's Academics of Excellency (yes, that's its real name) is instructive. This is a school that was ordered closed by Milwaukee's building inspectors in 1999, back when it was just Alex's Academic of Excellence. After moving repeatedly during the 1999-2000 school year, that summer the school's CEO (a convicted violent rapist) was jailed for tax fraud in an unrelated case. This was around the same time a private voucher program was refusing to send students to the school because it did not meet their academic standards. By the fall of 2003, the school was still open (now known as Alex's Acadmics of Excellence) and getting my taxpayer money while staff got stoned and drunk instead of teaching the children, and the state had to explain how its hands were tied.

And the school is still taking students and voucher money for this fall!

The solution is clearly not the market--and what we're really talking about here is a free (or at least free-er) market for education. In any market, there are winners and there are losers. But we're not talking about losers like New Coke or Daewoo here--we're talking about children. Do we really, really want to say that the market, which guarantees losers among the winners, is the best way to educate our children? This is why the New Zealand experience is perhaps more relevant that you might realize.

The Challenger hurts his case further in this paragraph:
My fictional "why not?" argument [ed: I contend it is not fictional and stand by my First Rebuttal] is further refuted by Jay when he reasons that private schools artificially keep their costs lower by "not providing special education service, by not hiring certified teachers, by not wasting time or money on state testing, by not accepting low-performing students" etc. This, according to Jay, creates an uneven playing field between public and private schools. Quite the contrary, public schools artificially raise their costs by a burdensome certification process, overblown bureaucracy, lavish benefits, and other wasteful spending. In fact, the school choice program in Milwaukee is saving MPS $100,000,000. The private schools are already subject to market forces. I guarantee you that a parent who forks over a few thousand dollars per kid to have them educated is far more demanding that the money be spent efficiently, and the school officials are far more responsive to a paying customer.
First of all, I think I've disproved the notion that the schools are responsive to market forces; second of all, the Challenger is badly misplacing the blame for the dramatically higher overhead of running a public school. The same State that requires public school districts to hire certified teachers tells private schools that they can hire whomever, whatever their level of training or penchant for molesting kids. The same State that necessitates the "burdensome bureaucracy" through its mandates (not to mention mandates from the feds) exempts private schools from those mandates. The State is taking away with one hand and giving with the other. The Challenger may have a point on the "lavish benefits," but if you want qualified teachers you have to remunerate them as well or better than they'd find in the private sector. And that commentary he links to on "wasteful spending" is laughable if you read it--off the point of this debate and not even about anything in Wisconsin. To further demonstrate my point, though, I encourage the Challenger (and anyone else) to call Central Services at the Milwaukee Public Schools and see how long it takes to reach a live person. Virtually all support staff have already been cut, and the cuts keep coming.

It also hurts that the Challenger is a little sloppy with his facts; for example, in that paragraph he claims that MPS saves a hundred million dollars a year from the voucher program. But if you read the press release he cited, as well as the full memo it is based on (.pdf link), you'd find that the $100,000,000 is the potential cost of ending the program statewide under the worst-case scenario. The memo itself notes (and I don't even need to add emphasis!):
Finally, it must be emphasized that these examples are speculative. Assumptions have been made on the effects on MPS membership and shared costs and the examples are calculated as if all these factors had been fully effective in 2003-2004. Changes to the assumptions could significantly modify the results.
The Challenger also apparently didn't note the import of what I quoted from the Washington Post. "I don't have any problem," he says, "with forcing schools to publish readily available statistics like teacher qualifications, attendance, graduation rates, etc. Most, if not all, private schools already gather these statistics because they use them to advertise to parents." The Post noted, though, that the problem is that this info doesn't get to parents! I recommend the original Public Policy Forum report (.pdf link) the Post referenced, which is chock-full of other good data about the Milwaukee voucher program.

What's most frustrating about the Challenger's position is that he is actively campaigning for a continuation of the untenable situation as it exists now. Remember that in his first rebuttal he asserted that private schools were private and could do what they wanted. This has been the whole problem--there is no oversight to ensure that the tax money going to these schools is buying a quality education, and as a result, our children are losing. And he stands by this, even hoping that fairness written into the law will be overcome: "If the State wants to require certain admissions standards in order for a private school to receive voucher dollars, then the State is wrong. [. . .] If all of the private schools refused all voucher kids, the public pressure to change the law would be irresistible." I'm stunned.

I began with the Challenger's own words, and the overwrought analogy of the water pitcher, and in closing, I will return to them. Sandwiched between those two sentences where he claims to care about quality, he slips in this gem: "The State should provide the means of education to all children equally." I'm often amazed at how often the "equality of opportunity" crowd slips into "equality of condition" mode when it comes to school vouchers. The State does provide the same opportunity of education to every single student in the State. And I have to tell you that even my own on-the-list-of-failing-schools school graduates top-notch students who go on to succeed in top universities and their chosen professions. Wisconsin's public school choice law even allows intradistrict transfers, so if you're displeased with the schools in your own district, you can send you child, for free, to another one. (This is a common law across the country.) Where is the inequality?

Finally, remember how, after all the pouring of water into all the glasses of variable and sometimes questionable quality, you still have a broken, dirty pitcher full of water? Since the inception of school vouchers and choice in Milwaukee, the business of fixing our pitcher has gone by the wayside. I was not engaging in "classic misdirection" by pointing out that the students who benefit from vouchers could also benefit from class-size reduction, which also benefits those who don't benefit from vouchers. This is just one example of how attention gets distracted from the real work of improving the public schools by ideological non-fixes such as vouchers.

Respectfully submitted,
Jay Bullock, Iron Blogger Democrat
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Thursday, June 24, 2004

Battle School Vouchers - Challenger - Second Rebuttal

The honorable and luminous Iron Blogger Democrat has sallied forth into the fray with bold language and firm arguments. The only problem is that his rebuttal arguments have only a tenuous relationship with what I actually said.

Jay begins his rebuttal by saying that "in theory, theory and practice are the same; in practice they are not." Very true. As Murphy says, "no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.” However, just because a theory does not meet 100% of its expectations does not necessarily invalidate the theory. Jay continues to a second point where he says, "His whole philosophy of vouchers seems to be, "why not?" A fair amount of effort is then spent by Jay in picking apart the "why not?" argument. The only problem is that I did not assert the argument that he contends that I asserted. Here is what I actually said in my opening:

In summary, the State, as properly directed by The People, must provide the suitable means to each child for the purpose of education. That education may come in any appropriate form, whether private or public, as prescribed by the child’s parents, which they are within their rights to prescribe.


I have not argued that the State should issue school vouchers because there isn't a good reason not to. Rather, I have argued that it is the State's duty to issue school vouchers in order to meet its obligations to our children’s education.

That is not to say that the "why not?" argument does not have some merit. It is just not the argument that I waged. The "why not?" argument is basically this: if the State has multiple methods to accomplish the same goal, then why not go with the least expensive option. I did not use it because 1) the State should never enact policy just for the heck of it, and 2) the argument is not suitable to an issue like school vouchers because of the numerous ancillary issues involved.

In the second paragraph, Jay uses a sentence from my opening statement to support his opinion that I have brought forth the "why not?" argument. I said, "If a private institution can provide an equal or better education for less money, then I think it is acceptable for the State only to dispense that amount of money." The problem is that I was asserting my opinion that the only situation in which I think that the State shouldn't dispense ALL of the money that it deems necessary to educate a child is when the private school costs less. This was not my argument for vouchers, but merely a concession that would allow the State to keep some of the education dollars intended for the child without providing any services for the child. So it seems that Jay has managed to waste a fair amount of his rebuttal on an argument that I never made. Pity.

I thank the Iron Blogger for commending my opening statement. I think that one thing that we can all agree on is that education is vital to the State's interests. That is why The People have given their respective governments the duty of providing that education. Jay then brings up the other side of this duty when he says, "the State also has an obligation to ensure that the education so provided is a quality one, and meets the standards deemed appropriate by the State." I, like many of my fellow supporters of school vouchers, completely agree. Reasonable people can disagree on what form those standards should take.

The Iron Blogger Democrat then contradicts himself. First he says, “As to the first, that parents can use the power of their shoe leather to moderate problematic schools, this has happened in Milwaukee to an extent--but only to a very, very small extent.” Then he says, “Every year there is significant turnover in the number of students participating in the choice program; in the past five years that number has been around 25% (.pdf link)--meaning about 2500 parents believed that the program was not working for their children. That's a huge number.” Indeed it is a huge number. In fact, it is a huge number that indicates to me that parents are doing exactly what the Iron Blogger has said that they are not doing – using the power of their shoe leather. Parents are choosing to return to the public schools after finding that the voucher schools were not working for their children. I would think that the public school would be delighted at this. The other side of that number, of course, is that 75% of the kids using school vouchers are finding that the voucher schools are working for them. I suspect that even if vouchers were implemented to the degree that I would like, 70% or more of the kids would remain in the public school system. That is a credit to the quality of education that some public schools provide.

The Washington Post editorial that the Iron Blogger cites does indeed say what the Iron Blogger has quoted. It also says, “The Milwaukee public schools have not responded to competition from the voucher programs either, largely because local officials have insulated public schools from the financial effects of competition.” Here is what the study that the editorial cited suggests:



What is needed, they argue, is not necessarily a system of special standardized tests or inspections, which might compromise the independence of the private schools in the program, but rules that require schools to publish and regularly update relevant information. For example, participating schools might be asked to publish the qualifications of teachers and administrators; the results of an annual financial audit; the curriculum; attendance, suspension and graduation rates; teacher turnover rates; class size; and the results of standardized tests, just for a start. In addition, officials have to make sure the market mechanism works: that both public and private schools failing to attract students suffer some financial consequences.


I agree. I don’t have any problem with forcing schools to publish readily available statistics like teacher qualifications, attendance, graduation rates, etc. Most, if not all, private schools already gather these statistics because they use them to advertise to parents. I would also hope that if the private schools offer up their data and are held accountable for it that the public schools would stop shielding their bad apples and let them fall off the tree. Tell you what, Jay, if we get some accountability from the voucher schools, will you support school vouchers?

The Iron Blogger then laments the fact that a voucher school could receive vast amounts of tax dollars and yet the State would “not have the ability to tell it what to do or how to do it.” This is true and my answer is “so what?” If we can hold voucher schools accountable, as I support a few paragraphs up, then why does the State need to have control? Isn’t the reason that most people use a school voucher because the State run education system is not serving their children’s needs? If the kids coming out of the voucher schools are well educated, then does the State have an interest in controlling the educational methodology? Is it possible that different educational methods work better or worse on different kids? Are you really proposing that one size fits all?

Jay then goes on to make a leap in logic that by supporting the right of a private school to operate according to its own admissions standards, that I support them breaking the law. That is not the case. If the State wants to require certain admissions standards in order for a private school to receive voucher dollars, then the State is wrong. That does not, however, mean that the private school can break the law. They should forgo the voucher money instead. If all of the private schools refused all voucher kids, the public pressure to change the law would be irresistible.

My fictional “why not?” argument is further refuted by Jay when he reasons that private schools artificially keep their costs lower by “not providing special education service, by not hiring certified teachers, by not wasting time or money on state testing, by not accepting low-performing students” etc. This, according to Jay, creates an uneven playing field between public and private schools. Quite the contrary, public schools artificially raise their costs by a burdensome certification process, overblown bureaucracy, lavish benefits, and other wasteful spending. In fact, the school choice program in Milwaukee is saving MPS $100,000,000. The private schools are already subject to market forces. I guarantee you that a parent who forks over a few thousand dollars per kid to have them educated is far more demanding that the money be spent efficiently, and the school officials are far more responsive to a paying customer.

The Iron Blogger Democrat next moves into the religious debate with a red herring Establishment Clause fear. I think that both Jay and I have done a respectable job of not getting into the religious question too deeply, because it is a completely separate issue. We could have a school voucher system that does not include religion-run schools. In any case, I think that a properly administered system of accountability could be effective without infringing on anyone’s private property rights or religious freedom. This is a bridge that we will have to cross after we’ve decided whether or not we should implement school vouchers.

My challenge to the Iron Blogger Democrat to move his argument beyond Milwaukee’s experience into the broader world is accepted by him in the final few paragraphs. While he is correct that, “Beyond Milwaukee, though, those other programs in other cities or countries have shown little if any good reason to hope that vouchers can ever live up to the promise of ‘theory.’” Very true, but I would point out three things. First, both sides of this debate have engaged in overheated rhetoric and outlandish claims. If you compare the results of any voucher program with the predictions of either side, you will find the results wanting. Second, none of the voucher programs that have been implemented are implemented in a way that matches the theories (save, perhaps, New Zealand). The programs have been watered down and subjected to the necessary compromises of bi-partisan legislation. One cannot hold a program to the promises of a theory of which the program is a hazy reflection. Third, none of the studies have shown that school vouchers hurt. That is not to advance a “why not?” argument, but merely to point out that the dire predictions of the opposition have failed to materialize. Every policy has to be taken on balance because every policy has costs and benefits. Taken as a whole, it seems that the voucher programs, even as poorly implemented as they are, have at least some benefit and minimal costs.

The Iron Blogger notices that a study that I cited said that African-American students benefited from school vouchers in New York. He goes on to complain that, “While that's good for the African American students involved, it was no better a result, the researchers note, than reducing class sizes--a change in policy that benefits all students in the classroom, with lasting positive effects.” This is a classic misdirection. The issue of class size has nothing to do with school vouchers. A school district could have a school voucher program and a class reduction program and never the two would meet. I’ll bet that those African-American students who are getting a better education and seeing a brighter future would fail to find Jay’s argument convincing.

The Iron Blogger closes out his rebuttal with a cautionary tale of problems in New Zealand’s program. I cited New Zealand as an example of a foreign country engaging in a form of free-market education. I don’t think that anyone here is advocating New Zealand’s approach. I agree that we can learn some lessons from them, much like we can learn lessons from Milwaukee, New York, Dayton, and all of the other places that have launched free market initiatives into their education system.

In the end, I have still not seen an argument against school vouchers from the Iron Blogger Democrat. He has argued that we need more accountability from voucher schools. I agree. He has argued that some voucher systems have not lived up to some expectations. I agree. He has argued that we need to be cautious about trampling on schools’ religious and secular freedoms. I agree. He has not, however, argued against school vouchers. If we could come up with compromises on each of his objections, would he support school vouchers? If so, then he does not oppose school vouchers, he opposes how they have been implemented up until now. If not, then I suspect that all of the objections regarding accountability and results are merely a smokescreen for a less attractive, more basic objection.

I support school vouchers because we, The People, have tasked the State with providing our children a quality education. Given that individual parents retain the right to choose the education path for our children and the State should provide the means of education to all children equally, the State should issue vouchers for parents to educate their children in the quality school of their choice.

Why do you oppose them, Jay?

Respectfully submitted,

Owen
The Challenger


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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Battle School Vouchers - Iron Blogger Democrat - First Rebuttal

The Challenger wants an explanation of why I will not debate the philosophy of vouchers. "Philosophy matters," he tells us. There is twofold trouble with that. First, as the saying goes, in theory, theory and practice are the same; in practice they are not. I will show that even other voucher practices outside of Milwaukee find the same problems and the same lack of success as we see here. Then there's the second problem with the Challenger's statements, and it is much more damaging to his own case: His whole philosophy of vouchers seems to be, "why not?"

Consider the words of the Challenger from my Opening Statement and the end of his own Opening Statement. He writes, "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?" (from mine) and "If a private institution can provide an equal or better education for less money, then I think it is acceptable for the State only to dispense that amount of money" (from his). This is about the extent of his philosophical argument--if the State can save a buck or two, why not do vouchers? The Challenger's First Rebuttal keeps pulling in that direction (while, admittedly, making a different point): "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." Besides overstating the actual per-pupil expenditure of MPS (it's really only $8,991, expected to rise $200 in the fall), the Challenger is subtly playing that same "if it costs less" game.

This "why not?" philosophy is an incredibly weak foundation on which to base one's support of such a broad and wide-ranging program as vouchers. I am not swayed by it, and, frankly, even if I were not predisposed to oppose vouchers, "why not?" is hardly a convincing argument. If the Challenger had posed some strong reasons for vouchers--as Annette Polly Williams did when she crusaded for a way to help the most troubled of the troubled find a better education in Milwaukee--I could maybe move a little bit. Williams, ashamed of how her crusade has been taken over by people with the Challenger's "why not?" attitude, is now a staunch opponent of expanding the voucher law beyond its original intent to help parents without resources find options. If "why not?" is the best they can do, then they will fail. As to the issue of whether or not private schools really do cost less, I will address that below.

But before I do, I must commend the rest of the Challenger's Opening Statement, where he generally presents very little I can disagree with. He sums it up well here:
The State may compel the parents to educate their children, but not prescribe the parameters of that education except in the broadest terms. The State does, however, still bear the responsibility of providing that education. The State must at all times execute its responsibilities in a way that is equal to all citizens. [. . .] The responsibility of providing an education must be provided equally to all citizens.
In other words, it is in the best interests of the State to ensure that all of its citizens are educated and to provide the means for the education to take place. Many states, including Wisconsin, where the Challenger and I both live and blog, take this obligation so seriously it is written into the constitution; I think Wisconsin's constitution is representative when it says,
The legislature shall provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years.
No one doubts, I should hope, the Challenger's contention, codified in state constitutions across the country, that the State must make education available to every child.

Yet there is a second, equally important aspect to this obligation on the part of the State that the Challenger ignores, and it is absolutely central to every facet of the school voucher debate: In addition to providing the means for education to take place, the State also has an obligation to ensure that the education so provided is a quality one, and meets the standards deemed appropriate by the State. While not writ in the metaphorical stone of our constitution, Wisconsin has a quite elaborate legislated system of checks established--from requiring certification of teachers to monitoring student performance--to guarantee that the education our tax dollars buy is worth what we're paying for it.

It is here where Milwaukee's voucher experience can serve as a truly cautionary tale: The State has no means to ensure the quality of an education provided at a private school! Now, the Challenger does make two interesting points regarding accountability:
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.
As to the first, that parents can use the power of their shoe leather to moderate problematic schools, this has happened in Milwaukee to an extent--but only to a very, very small extent. Every year there is significant turnover in the number of students participating in the choice program; in the past five years that number has been around 25% (.pdf link)--meaning about 2500 parents believed that the program was not working for their children. That's a huge number. In the early years of the program, that number was as high as 44%. Yet, as the Washington Post notes, the market has not corrected itself (registration link--login with mailinator@mailinator.com, password mailinator):
In theory, the Milwaukee program, like the District [of Columbia]'s program, was supposed to empower parents, allowing them to leave poor schools--which would shut down or be spurred to improve--and join good ones, which would benefit from the increased public money. In practice, so little information is made available to Milwaukee parents that the market mechanism has never worked. By the Public Policy Forum's reckoning, only one school in the city has been shut down because too many parents abandoned it.
And as to the Challenger's second point, on testing: High-stakes tests are not bad because they are tests; high-stakes tests are bad because they're high-stakes. The data collected by testing are just that--data. It's what you do with those data that matter. Testing, by the way, is just one way of collecting data on schools. And not only do schools participating in the voucher program not have to administer the same tests as public schools, all of the other things about public schools that are transparent and assessable--from financing to personnel decisions--private schools are also not required to report.

You see, that's where the Challenger's argument falls apart, and where his "far more intelligent wife" has things right: Private schools are just that--private. And, as the Wisconsin State Supreme Court opined in 1998,
the mere appropriation of public monies to a private school does not transform that school into a district school under [the state constitution]. This conclusion is not affected by the amount of public funds a private school receives.
In other words, every single student in a choice school could be paid for by vouchers--the school's entire income could come from the state--and the state would not have the ability to tell it what to do or how to do it.

The Challenger himself makes this argument--that private schools don't have to follow the state's rules--many times in his First Rebuttal: "One must remember that voucher schools are private schools and have the right to maintain their admissions requirements. [. . .] Again, voucher schools are private schools. They can accept or reject whomever they choose." The Challenger is apparently defending these schools' violations of the law; if he had read the links I provided he'd find that if a school wants voucher money, it is illegal for them to turn students away, whether they be special education, low-performing, or what have you.

This is another reason why the Challenger's "if it costs less, why not?" philosophy is wrong: By not providing special education service, by not hiring certified teachers, by not wasting time or money on state testing, by not accepting low-performing students (or kicking them out once the voucher money has come in), voucher schools artificially hold their costs down. This is not a level playing field, for you market advocates out there, as the burdens placed only on public schools more than account for the cost difference. In fact, the Challenger himself admits this flaw in his First Rebuttal:
If Milwaukee would pass along the actual dollar amount that [voucher schools] 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. [. . .] 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.
Religious schools are even more private than private schools. While the Challenger contends that spending money on the parochial schools that "take all comers," challenging or not, is constitutional (and reasonable people can disagree about that), if the State were to exercise the kind of control it would take to ensure the quality of the school, we would get into much more unconstitutional. Can we tell Messmer High School, a Catholic Milwaukee school that takes voucher students, that it must administer the state's WKCE test for tenth-graders (not for high-stakes purposes, but to allow for reasonable comparison)? If we do, would that not affect the school's curriculum, as they may "teach to the test"? What kind of Establishment Clause mess do we get into, then, when this state burden infringes on the religious instruction that is part and parcel of the school's program? Can we tell them what teachers they may hire? Must we make them report their finances? The list goes on and on, all of them good reasons why monitoring the performance of a religious school taking vouchers is nigh on impossible for constitutional reasons.

I promised way back at the beginning that I would address the practice--not the theory--of vouchers elsewhere. The Challenger claims that "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." First of all, I should note that Milwaukee's voucher system is the oldest and largest voucher program in the country, with the most data, such as it is, available to study.

Beyond Milwaukee, though, those other programs in other cities or countries have shown little if any good reason to hope that vouchers can ever live up to the promise of "theory": Cleveland's program, in the same GAO study both the Challenger and I cited, has not been heralded as a success--that line about how "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" is all you need to know. (The "other investigators" mentioned by the GAO are studies funded by voucher supporters such as the Black Alliance for Education Options, headed by fired former MPS superintendent and voucher lover Howard Fuller, and Milwaukee's Bradley Foundation. You'll find studies funded by voucher opponents showing that vouchers are bad, too. That's why I chose to cite the non-partisan GAO.) But the Challenger also trotted out a Harvard study of Cleveland's program, a study that--I kid you not--is based almost solely on two hours of testing at two schools two years in a row. The researchers themselves explain, "The data upon which this evaluation is based are necessarily limited. [. . . T]he data available for analysis are not from a randomized experiment, enabling investigators to compare participants with a control group."

As to the privately-funded vouchers that have popped up in New York City, Washington DC, and Dayton, Ohio, the research cited by the Challenger noted that "In general, we found no evidence that vouchers significantly improved the test scores of ethnic groups other than African-Americans, most notably Latinos in New York and whites in Dayton. The impact of vouchers for African-Americans, however, was moderately large." While that's good for the African American students involved, it was no better a result, the researchers note, than reducing class sizes--a change in policy that benefits all students in the classroom, with lasting positive effects.

Chile has vouchers, sure; but Chile has no constitutional requirement to provide an education and, as a result, has many broad, rural areas without a public school at all. Hardly a one-to-one comparison for this country. New Zealand is closer, I suppose, but its voucher system is not without its own problems:
What were the results? The answer is at best mixed. It was good for some schools and some students, but disastrous for other schools, many of which served disproportionate shares of disadvantaged students. As New Zealand policymakers now busily retreat from the reforms, their experience offers some warnings for other countries thinking about moving down the same road.
Warnings we would be wise to heed.

Respectfully submitted,
Jay Bullock, Iron Blogger Democrat
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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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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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Battle School Vouchers - Challenger - Opening Statement

As the esteemed Chairman and the innumerable and illustrious contributors of this blog have pointed out, the issue of School Vouchers is a topic rife with complexity and competing interests.

Or is it?

Although School Vouchers raise a number of subordinate and subsidiary issues, the actual issue of School Vouchers is relatively straight forward. Let’s back up a little and lay some groundwork, shall we?

There is a great deal of confusion in the public sphere regarding exactly what School Vouchers are. This is largely because the voucher programs that have already been implemented come in a variety of flavors. Some voucher programs are only available for people who fall below a certain income level. Some voucher programs are capped so that only a certain percentage of the population may participate. Some voucher programs put requirements on the private schools that participate. Considering that voucher programs come in 57 tasty varieties and it would be oppressively boring to prattle on about the mundane details of each, I’m going to define School Vouchers in their broadest sense.

School Vouchers are any program whereby the government gives some tax dollars to families who opt to send their children to a private school rather than a government one.

I suppose that I should pause for a moment and disclose my underlying biases. I am a father of 4 children, 3 of whom are in school. They attend a parochial school for which we pay the full tuition. I grew up attending both private and public schools. My mother was a public school teacher with a Masters in Education who taught primarily the mentally handicapped (which explains her success with me). I support School Vouchers, but my equally conservative and far more intelligent wife does not. And now, I return you to your regularly scheduled debate.

Before we examine the merits of School Vouchers, we must first study the history and purpose of public education. The genesis of public education in America came with the genesis of the nation itself. Many of the Founding Fathers supported public education. As usual, the most articulate advocate for public education was Thomas Jefferson, who said, "I think by far the most important bill in our whole code, is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness... The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." (Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe, 1786).

In a Republic, where the general public is responsible for the direction of the nation on a great number of issues, it is vital that every citizen have an education that prepares them to make wise decisions. It is also necessary that every citizen understand their liberty and the underpinnings of the Republic so that they may maintain a vigorous defense of their rights and freedoms. In order for the citizenry to properly manage their Republic while protecting their inalienable rights, they must be well versed in economics, philosophy, math, reading, writing, oratory, and history. In order to ensure that the citizens were capable of warding off the fate of past Republics, men like Jefferson advocated for the dissemination of knowledge from the very birth of our magnificent nation.

One must understand the enormous undertaking that men like Jefferson were proposing. They were talking about taking farmers, blacksmiths, butchers, etc. and all manner of people from all manner of society and educating them in things that they had not known existed. If you think that explaining the importance geometry to an inner-city kid is important, try explaining the importance of Greek literature to an 18th century farm-boy. Furthermore, men like Jefferson were proposing that the public should provide for the education of every citizen, so that the blessings of education should not be the sole privilege of the wealthy.

I support public education. An educated populace will always have the intellectual tools at their disposal to be capable stewards of our Republic so that their children may inherit the blessings of liberty and not the manacles of tyranny.

Over the years, educational priorities have shifted with the times. We no longer teach Greek literature, but we teach Computer Science. Given the breadth of human knowledge on a near infinite number of topics, the debate about which subjects should be taught and which subjects should be ignored has raged for centuries.

One thing that has remained constant throughout the existence of our nation is a parent’s right to guide the education of their own child. Parents are responsible for every aspect of a child’s upbringing and education is in the forefront of those responsibilities. Parents have always been able to withdraw their children from the government’s schools and enroll them in private institutions or even take on the education of their children by themselves. To my knowledge, this right of the parents has never been successfully challenged.

Given that education is a vital State interest, yet parents retain the right to select the form of that education, the question is whether or not the State should pay for the education of a child if that child is not enrolled in a State institution. Yes, it should.

When The People decide that something is in their best interest, and decide to use the State’s coercive powers in order to support it, then the State assumes the duty and responsibility of providing for that something. In the case of education, The People have decided that education is necessary for the existence and continuation of their Republic. As such, The People have decided to use their State to provide education for every person. The People have also decided that they will use the power of their State to compel every person to acquire a proper education.

Ahhhh…. but there’s the rub. In our liberal tradition of individual rights, the State may not compel a citizen to do something if it is a violation of their rights. For instance, it is in the State’s best interest to remove criminals from the street, but the State may not compel a citizen to testify against himself. Individual rights are the boundaries within which the State must act. In view of the fact that parents retain the unchallenged right to raise their children within their own social and philosophical norms, the State may not compel them to enroll their children into a government school. The State may compel the parents to educate their children, but not prescribe the parameters of that education except in the broadest terms.

The State does, however, still bear the responsibility of providing that education. The State must at all times execute its responsibilities in a way that is equal to all citizens. When a road is built, all citizens, regardless of race, religion, creed, or wealth may use that road equally. When a courtroom is run, all citizens must be treated uniformly under the law. All citizens lie equally protected at night under the blanket of freedom provided by the military.

The responsibility of providing an education must be provided equally to all citizens. If the State has decided that $10,000 per year is adequate to provide an education to a child, then that amount should be spent on every child. In practice, of course, some children are more expensive to educate, but I think that the State can break down the expense into fairly broad categories. For instance, a child with a learning disability may require $15,000 per year to provide the same level of education. In any case, the money that the State must spend in order to provide what it has deemed to be a suitable education must follow the child. If a private institution can provide an equal or better education for less money, then I think it is acceptable for the State only to dispense that amount of money. In short, the State should dispense enough money for the purpose of education up to the amount it would have spent if the child had attended a government school and the government school should forgo that amount.

In summary, the State, as properly directed by The People, must provide the suitable means to each child for the purpose of education. That education may come in any appropriate form, whether private or public, as prescribed by the child’s parents, which they are within their rights to prescribe.

I know that talk of rights and duty aren’t nearly as much fun as bickering over voucher policies and statistics, but it is upon this foundation of State interests, tempered by individual rights, that I build my schoolhouse.

Mr. Chairman, I yield the floor to my distinguished colleague on the Left.

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Sunday, June 20, 2004

Sixth Battle

I am still feeling stung by the first loss of one of my mighty Iron Bloggers in last week's Death Penalty battle, and doubts of my blogging empire are starting to make me restless. The only way to regain the glory and honor of Iron Blog is to press on with yet another formidable Challenger.

This week's Challenger is a Conservative who has the distinction of being on two of my Iron Blogger's blog rolls, and serves as an analyst in Wisconsin at Political State Report. He is Owen, blogger of Boots and Sabers. Here is what Owen had to say in his Challenge:

"I like to debate broad philosophical questions more than specific issues, but can hold my own in either. I have parried and thrusted with Jay on my own blog. I wouldn't mind challenging him because we're pretty diametrically opposed on almost every issue. I don't know Pratt, but I can assume that we would have differences. I would challenge either of them just to put a "1" in their "Loss" column."

Iron Blogger Democrat, Jay Bullock, you have been Challenged by the one you have called your 'arch nemesis'. Stand strong and reclaim the honor and glory of my Iron Bloggers.

If memory serves me right, both men have a strong interest in the future of this country and the generations of leaders that will one day guide it. The shaping of these young minds is one of the most important things we as a society must do, and it is our greatest responsibility. Therefore, the Topic of the battle is this:

School Vouchers


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? Let's see what the combatants have to say.

Allez debate!


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Battle Death Penalty - Verdict

This was, in more ways than one, our closest battle yet at Iron Blog, and easily my favorite and the one I am most proud of. The lead changed hands no less than three times during the battle. Both combatants did an incredible job and deserve our congratulations on showing what Iron Blog can truly aspire to be.

And now, the verdict.

Two tough competitors duking it out over one of the most widely divided of Topics, The Chairman letting the Challenger call the shot and bring the game to the Iron Blogger. Challenger Big Dan offering up four passionate arguments against capital punishment, Iron Blogger Republican Rosemary Esmay countering with solid rebuttals and trademark razor wit.

Who takes it?

Whose spleen vents supreme?

Challenger Big Dan of God In The Machine



It's the Challenger! Big Dan has become the first to topple an Iron Blogger!

Let's look at the scores:

Judge Pineapple Girl scores it 67-51 for the Challenger
Judge Ralph Stefan scores it 67-66 for the Iron Blogger
And Judge CDT Michael scores it 67-66 for the Challenger

Big Dan takes the Left and the Right on his path to victory. An amazing battle!
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Battle Death Penalty - Judges' Comments

The Closing Arguments are up, the debate is done, Battle Death Penalty is ovah!

On the panel for this battle, are:

On the Left, Pineapple Girl of Politics at Pineapple Girl.

On the Right is CDT Michael of The Common Virtue.

And from the Center is Ralph Stefan, a regular here at Iron Blog.

Let's see what the Judges have to say.

Opening Arguments

PG:
A post that stands on its own, and challenges the reader to look at new ideas (to name one, the response of victims' families who did not feel the vindication for which they'd hoped). I especially appreciated the opinions of law enforcement. This was a solid, well-organized and fluid OA, and I can't think of a way the Challenger could have done better in defining his case, structuring his argument, and making it digestible. I found the tone to be a skosh more melodramatic than necessary in the opening graphs, however, re Kelsey Patterson -- any reader knows this is a death penalty debate, so there's far less oomph in an opening sentence of "Kelsey Patterson is dead" than I think Big Dan might have hoped.

Statements from the Iron Blogger such as "The death penalty certainly has stopped proven murderers from repeating their crimes" and "I would be remiss not to mention the recent spate of death penalty moratoriums" are just begging for links, yet went without any sourcing. There was also a presumption that the reader knows enough about the 5 common methods of execution to agree with the Iron Blogger that lethal injection is the most humane of the 5 -- at the least, a link to info about the other methods would have been appropriate. Overall, I feel confident that this post will be the one blight in an otherwise convincing and well-written argument from the Iron Blogger. Her prima facie case is not strong right now, but there is much blogging yet to be done.
RS:
The Challenger’s did a nice job of structuring his opening argument. His breakdown of criminal punishment and its justifications was an excellent method of taking on the subject. This led nicely into his final assertion that the death penalty is unfair. I found the article on lethal injection to be highly informative. The quotes at the end were a nice touch and I felt his references to Klingons and Tom Cruise helped the readability of the piece. His links were fairly solid and somewhat educational. On the down side, I did not appreciate his opening. It was basically an appeal to emotion. The problem was further compounded when one followed the link regarding Kelsey Patterson. I think his attempt to make Patterson a poster boy for executed people who are mentally diminished was a huge mistake given the man had previously shot two other co-workers prior to his murder rampage. His link, which purported that police chiefs did not view the death penalty as an effective deterrent wasn’t quite as advertised. When you follow the link (manually I might add), you find the words “Expand Death Penalty” in the chart. His “Bush Kills” link was goofy and unnecessary.

IBR took the bull by the horns and literally structured her post on the Chairman’s questions. There was no mincing of words. She did an excellent job in answering these questions and provided ample support in terms of links. Her inclusion of Donna Payant in the discussion was a surprise and raises some interesting questions. At one point, IBR seemed to contradict herself. After touting the lengthy appeals process in terms of safeguarding the death penalty process, she then talks about how the death penalty needs to be swift and just. These two concepts seem to be at odds. I found her link to a google search to be inappropriate for backing up her assertion that many people are murdered in prison. The Wikiopedia link on James Boyd was uninspired.
CM:
Overall, a strong opening statement that could certainly stand on its own without carrying-on to the various arguments and closing. The Challenger makes the point that life in prison is better. He should have elaborated on this idea, and perhaps searched for an example of life in prison reforming a person.

A pretty good job. I especially like the fact that the Iron Blogger provided a real example of a killer who escaped the death penalty, only to kill again. Of course, the argument could be made that this was an isolated incident, and perhaps the Iron Blogger should have addressed this. Using the question and answer format interrupted the flow, but helped with information and logic, which turns it into neither a positive or a negative. A good start, and enough to stand on its own.

1st Rebuttals

PG:
He does a good job pointing out the flaws in IB's arguments (i.e. the safeguards, relative humanity of lethal injection versus other methods), and in bringing in interesting material that reinforces his OA without warming it over (the Apostle Paul/Bonhoeffer, et al. point, for example), and with the GA Supreme Court opinion renders one IB point dead in the water. Again, Big Dan uses a great mix of colorful analogy, respect, and cultural reference to keep this post engaging. He turns some lovely phrases here, namely "a killer remains and it is us." Can I use that? I'll quote you. =)

I was impressed with the Iron Blogger's strategy of logical fallacy. The appeal to authority of the Klingon redirect and the false analogy of the "V8" point are two excellent examples. It was a good read, especially in the fisking/reinterpreting of the Challenger's "compulsion for revenge" paragraph. I found syntax a little wanting and some of the drama to be gratuitous (rectal sutures? If we were talking about the Louima case and were speaking of fact, I wouldn't have paid attention, but it seemed the goal was strictly to put a gorier new spin on an old talking point, and not even a terribly relevant spin at that).
RS:
The Challenger did a fair job rebutting IBR’s main points. He further strengthened some of his previous points and it will be interesting to see if IBR can take some of them on. He introduced some new points and I don’t know if all them make sense. Once again, he did a nice job with his links. This post had structure problems. He didn’t seem to take on IBR’s points in any particular order. There seemed to be some jumping around between rebuttal points and new points. Some of his new points are vague and I am not clear with where he is going with them. The “eye for an eye” and “dark urges” points concern me. Bringing up the Holocaust again was a mistake repeated (if he brings it up again, it’ll be three strikes and you’re out). Citing trial lawyers on the fairness issue was probably not a good idea.

IBR did the rope a dope again. The Challenger should have known this was coming. Much like her first debate, she provided an adequate opening argument but takes it to another level in her first rebuttal. Unfortunately, I felt the Challenger invited this with his uninspired first rebuttal. IBR did an excellent job taking on the Challenger’s points and structured it well. It was a highly entertaining read and she did a good job with her links. IBR could have delivered the knock out punch if it weren’t for a weak conclusion. Her points at the end were somewhat weak and muddled. In addition, I feel her reliance on Court TV for her links is weakness.
CM:
The Challenger does a good job of directly challenging some of the Iron Blogger's points, although he could have challenged more, or done so in a more systematic manner. The challenger did a good job of taking some of the Iron Blogger's points and turing them around, such as the safeguards. There are many good points in here, although a bit more could have been done.

This was a very good rebuttal. Simply a class A act. The Iron Blogger did a superb job of going through the Challenger's arguments and turing them around. The style was sarcastic, but in a good way. This should put the Challenger on the defensive. It is true that perhaps some of the sarcasm amounted to some points that were not very important, but that still does not diminish the whole post. I especially liked the use of the Klingon quotes, and using them to disprove the Challenger's Klingon quotes. Good job.


2nd Rebuttals

PG:
Especially nice return on the Nebraska/lethal injection point and on the "eye for an eye"/Biblical position. The Challenger did a good job of quelling the major criticisms of 1R, and turned several of the Iron Blogger's positions around. Ending the 2R by questioning the Iron Blogger's statements on retribution, which are a major theme of her side, doesn't leave her too much choice but to try to backpedal on
that, which is a sharp technique. I thought the reference to "Thief's comments" was poor form (I'm assuming that someone commented on the prevalence of DPIC links?); I feel confident that the Iron Blogger doesn't need to read the comments to poach ideas and strategy. I personally don't read any comments for a Battle while I am judging, (with the exception of the first 5 or 6 that were posted on the day the Battle was announced, before I found out I was on base for this one) and was still able to discern that DPIC was the go-to source in the Challenger's OA.

I found the Iron Blogger's TownHall/Cal Thomas link and subsequent point harmful to her own case. She even went so far as to emphasize in bold a statement from a scholar that the "mistaken executions rate is zero" -- although the Challenger had already beat her to that punch by using a similarly credentialed scholar alongside a more objective source link when he anticipated that argument in 1R, pointing out that the reason for the lack of posthumous exonerations (i.e. "mistaken executions") is that investigations end when the person in question dies. However, this is the Rosemary we know and love. "Big girl potty"! HAHAHA! (And, this isn't just solidarity for another chick in the sausage-fest world of political blogging either: she calls the Challenger out on the same courtesy gaffe I did.) But, it's not just validation of my judging skills at work here either -- overall the IB's 2R was pleasantly tangy and fun to read.
RS:
The Challenger did a fair job rebutting some of IBR’s main points. At long last, he introduced Barry Sheck. He would have been better served if he had introduced this line of attack earlier in the debate with more focus. He did a good job catching IBR’s Nebraska mistake and that earned him a point. The Albert Camus quote was a nice touch. His links were solid. The Challenger spent too much time on the “eye for an eye” point Furthermore; he turned it into a religious discussion. I don’t have a problem with religious points in a political debate but I value logic and reason most. While I view discussions of faith as interesting, one should be careful when turning a debate in this direction. Once again, he compounds his mistakes. He dusted off the “eye for an eye” chestnut and continues to try and push the discussion in that direction. He brought up the Holocaust again and tossed in a bonus reference to Hiroshima. Shudder. Most alarming, he seems tantalizing close to refuting IBR on a couple of major points but he can’t seem to seal the deal.

IBR did an excellent job of taking on the Challenger’s main points. She laid out a strong rebuttal as evidenced by her points regarding the DNA Technology Act. Furthermore, her Biblical quotes seemed to turn the Challenger’s “eye for an eye” argument on its ear. Overall, it was another fine effort from IBR. There are a few weaknesses in her post that can be exploited. Other than that, this was a really sound post and I can’t fault her on much of anything.
CM:
This was a pretty good rebuttal, but the Challenger wanders a bit too much. He did a very good job of using Nebraska as an example, but concentrates a bit too much on things that may not matte too much. The Challenger definitly could have expanded on the religious ideas against the Death Penalty, but merely mentions them. Comparing today's death penalty and Pontius Pilate is not a good idea; the two are totally different. It seems to me that this battle is about the death penalty in America, not in Roman times. I also do not think it is correct to talk about "archaic concepts from a religious book." The reason I say this is that statement does not do much to persuade one about the origin of the death penalty, nor do I think it is necessary to try to beat down the Bible in arguing against the death penalty.

The Irong Blogger did a nice job with this one. Her rebuttals seem much more focused than the Challenger's. Good point by point rebuttals here of some of the Challenger's points and rebuttals. Be careful though that your sarcasm does not become distracting. Without listing them all, I feel like the Irong Blogger does a good job of atleast hurting, and often destroying the Challenger's arguments.

Closing Arguments

PG:
This post succeeds on many levels -- in any other venue, the reasonable doubt strategy alone would be enough to win the debate even if the rest of the posts had been terminally flawed (though they weren't), and the Challenger excels at highlighting the holes in the Iron Blogger's rebuttals. I was disappointed that the Challenger didn't give even lip service to reminding the audience of his original argument, that the death penalty doesn't satisfy any of the four theories of correction to justify its brutality. Still, he does a good job wrapping things up, and there's no doubt that the Closing Argument stands on its own.

Iron Blogger opened her closing with a flawed premise: "My rebuttals showed that while there is a chance an innocent person might get a death sentence; the chance of an innocent person actually being executed is nil." I never saw the Iron Blogger prove without a doubt that an innocent person can never be (or has never been) executed in
America. Even in the blogosphere, readers' memories are longer than to gloss over that. Then, she returns moments later to say, "no, there is a chance, but it's justified", which is a head-scratcher premise-wise. The false analogy of the equating of the informed risks that free citizens undertake when they travel to the risk of killing an innocent with the death penalty was strategically weak as well. I did like the Heinlein quote, which provides some nice food for thought philosophically (and could likely have more effective earlier in the debate).
RS:
The Challenger did a good job with his closing argument. He summarized both his and IBR’s main points and did a fine job to solidify his case. It was both content filled and spirited. Overall, his best post since his opening. While the structure was straightforward and tailored to summarize, there was nothing imaginative in the structure. At least one of claims of silence from IBR was unfounded as IBR addressed the cost issue. There were questions about others in my mind as well.

This was an uninspired post. IBR was able to present her major points and that was about it. Her introduction of the automobile issue was puzzling. She seemed like she just wanted to get out of Dodge. This was a poor effort.
CM:
This is a very convincing argument from the Challenger. Talking about reasonable doubt and even the possibility of injustice, and proven injustices, helps very much. The Challenger brings back his arguments, and the Iron Blogger's responses; also a very good idea. Simply put, with this closing the Challenger convincingly argues for his points while casting doubt on the Iron Blogger's. Good job.

I hate to say this, but this seems to be the Iron Blogger's weakest post. That does not mean it is without good points. However, I honestly do not think the Iron Blogger's analogies are convincing. It is also important to note that the Iron Blogger admitted new material in this closing section, which is not supposed to happen. No points were taken off, but no bonus points were given. Also, the Iron Blogger needs to specifically tie her previous three posts together to come to a conclusion here. On a positive note, bringing in the 5th Amendment is a good idea. However, it should have been done from the very start.
The Judges have spoken, and now we await the Verdict!

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Blitz Battle Winners
Chris in NH (BB #2)
Big Dan (BB #6)
Former Challengers
Jimmie Bisse Jr. of The Sundries Shack
Chris of World Inquiry
Dean Esmay of Dean's World
Big Dan of God In The Machine
Owen of Boots and Sabers
Frank LoPinto of Cool Blue Blog
Bryan S of Arguing With Signposts
Ralph Stefan of Ralph's Garage
Former Iron Bloggers
Rosemary Esmay (2-1)


Blogroll
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