Tuesday, March 5, 2013

DNR School Vouchers

For the betterment of Wisconsin, Gov. Walker should adhere to the do not resuscitate (DNR) order and let the state's voucher experiment die peacefully. Instead, this past week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker began administering CPR to his flatlining school voucher plan.

In an attempt to rescue the Koch Brothers-promoted plan, Gov. Walker has reversed his position and now supports voucher schools being subjected to the same accountability standards of Wisconsin’s public schools. The falsehood of Gov. Walker’s sudden compromise plan is exposed by the laissez-faire think tanks trying to pump artificial life into this dying plan.

The death bell tolls on the voucher proposal as school leaders, communities, and, surprisingly, some Wisconsin GOPers have come out against the expansion of private school vouchers. This free market fantasy has been beaten and battered by reality for the past two decades in Wisconsin. Comprehensive research shows public schools outperform voucher schools and voucher funds mostly help those who do not need help.

Extending funding for vouchers is about as logical as continuing life support for a brain-dead patient. Life support might be therapeutic in the short run for those with emotional ties, but it is wasteful and unhealthy in the long run for all. Pulling the plug on Wisconsin’s lifeless voucher system is a reasoned decision.

The death of vouchers is necessary to resurrect public concern for schools tasked to serve high-poverty, high-needs kids. As state Senator Tim Cullen reminded school leaders at a district meeting, the original intent of the state aid formula was to balance finances of rich and poor school districts. Vouchers do not help poor school districts.

Wisconsin’s students would be better served by a social justice approach to school funding. As Linda Darling-Hammond, our nation’s premier educational researcher, preaches, “Education is not a private good,  it is a public good…we all profit and we all hurt depending on the quality of education other people’s kids get.”

This sensible sermon is a tough sell to voucher supporters. The elephant in this voucher debate is that some parents send their kids to private schools to shield them from public school kids mired in debilitating poverty. Gov. Walker and his supporters like to market vouchers as necessary in supporting students and parents wanting to run from failing schools. In actuality, some voucher users are not fleeing failing schools, but rather fleeing from the troubled students failed by others.

I know this mentality all too well. Early in my career, I taught in a Catholic high school. Quite openly, some of my private school students and their parents expressed their fear of public school kids of many kinds. I suspect most private schools are effective at insulating their students from the troubles linked to kids mired in debilitating poverty.  

Navigating public schools hampered by student poverty is, admittedly, a struggle. My recent experiences as a public school parent and an educator make me keenly aware of the challenges facing my children and students being serviced in an increasingly high-poverty district. However, this struggle is imperative in generating the collective awareness and energy necessary in finding shared solutions for the inequity plaguing our schools and larger society.

Public schools are the soul of society. The soul is whole when kids (and parents) of all classes are served equitably. Wisconsin needs to terminate vouchers, nurture its soul, and continually be reminded that “...we all profit and we all hurt depending on the quality of education other people’s kids get.”

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