Dr. Howard Fuller and Superintendent Tony Evers co-authored an op-ed on Sunday expressing their concern about exempting voucher schools from taking the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE).  Although they didn't explain why removing WKCE was a mistake, they affirmed that all Milwaukee schools should be on a common report card.  I agree.  Yet I'm not so sold on it being the WKCE.

The focus of their piece was about keeping accountability in the voucher program, but they concluded that retaining the current income eligibility standards would protect the program's original mission of social justice.  How income eligibility requirements affect the program's accountability is a bit confusing, but perhaps the good doctor had something else in mind.

I've talked to Howard Fuller about the program's income limits.  He believes that social justice requires taxpayers anteing up for the education of low-income students.  But Fuller's understanding of social justice is incomplete.

In Fuller's view, removing income limits from the voucher program would stop its original social justice mission because it would authorize "people of means" to participate.  However, social justice isn't just about low-income families.  Social justice is about equality and recognizing the dignity of every human being.  Equality means parents of all backgrounds should have an equal footing to send their kids to the school of their choice.

What Fuller has in mind is not equality, but a type of equalizing.  It's a way to lift up some without lifting up the rest.  Fuller believes in centralized planning, a restrictive approach that unfortunately carves out the working poor.  There is an ongoing debate about how to define a "people of means", and people like Fuller are okay with a shifting definition.

Currently, to enroll into the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, a family must make equal to or less than 175% of the federal poverty level.  This means a family of four earning $40,000 a year cannot qualify.  Does Dr. Fuller believe that such a family qualifies a "people of means?"

Now that Republicans have gained a firm control of Wisconsin's Legislature, it seems that Dr. Fuller is okay with raising the program's enrollment criterion from 175% to 300% of the federal poverty level.  This expands the program to more working class families, but mandating exclusionary standards does not align with true social justice.

I do not question Dr. Fuller's heart, nor do I doubt his commitment to low-income families.  But to date, I've found no evidence that removing income eligibility requirements would negatively impact low-income students.  On the contrary, some studies suggest that broadening the program would increase competition and enhance student achievement.

If expanding the program doesn't negatively impact low-income students, then MPCP's original mission of social justice not only stays intact, but it would be redoubled.  If school choice is really about education reform, then all children should have access despite income and geography.




Ricardo Pimentel, an opinion columnist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, gave a rather skewed perspective about Milwaukee's Parental Choice Program (MPCP) in this morning's editorial.  The gist of Ricardo's piece was this: the pioneer supporters of the school choice program in Milwaukee were duped because the program now accommodates families that do not need tuition subsidies.

According to Pimentel, those on the right - as far back as the 1960s - used the school choice program to target low-income families knowing it would get the sort of bipartisan traction it needed to succeed. And when it did, Wallah!  Republicans changed it to incorporate higher-income families into the program, thus exposing their true motives of achieving "universal choice to opt out of the social contract to fund the public schools."

Ricardo started off his piece by invoking the name of renowned economist Milton Friedman saying,

"Back in 1962, when Milton Friedman pushed school choice, the argument was that low-income students were struggling the most and more affluent students had private-school options."

The implication, of course, is that Friedman introduced this seminal argument, which is quite the opposite.  In Milton Friedman's book "Free to Choose," Friedman says,

"We have tried in this chapter to outline a number of constructive suggestions: the introduction of a voucher system for elementary and secondary education that would give parents at all income levels freedom to choose the schools their children attend."

Friedman argued that voucher programs should include parents of all income levels if it were to succeed in truly being a free market product.  He went as far as to argue that tuition vouchers should also apply to public schools - meaning the money should follow the student wherever they went.  So, Pimental was wrong.  It's not about opting out of a social contract with public schools, but creating a social contract with our parents and giving them the right to choose schools on the basis of their performance.  They are owed that much.

Using Minorities as Pawns

Ricardo's two main assertions were these: early supporters of school choice were duped and kids of color were used as pawns.  Ricardo has made these points in the past, and his attempts to prove them were just as flimsy as they are now.  He says to the original supporters of school choice,

"Your hearts were pure and your motives noble when you teamed with the right in those battles royale that culminated in school choice.  But if I were you, I'd feel a bit betrayed about now."

Why does Ricardo want people to feel betrayed?  According to him, it's because the choice program was touted as an asset to low-income children, but now it's being used to de-fund public schools.

Making the issue about de-funding public schools misses the point, doesn't it?  What good is protecting a product that is free from the correcting forces of competition and free from meeting the most basic standards of quality?  People shouldn't feel duped as long as choice schools continue to provide a sound education for low-income children.

Ricardo revealed the real reason for his editorial by saying this:

"Now, if you are one of those parents who have already left public schools, I'm guessing part of the reason is not just displeasure with MPS performance. You also likely prefer a smaller school that stresses religious education. But my tax dollars shouldn't support a preference. They should support a need.  But my tax dollars shouldn't support a preference.  They should support a need."

Ricardo says that his tax dollars should support needs, not someone's preference.  Yet if our tax dollars are for needs only, then why are parents who send their kids to private schools paying to send someone else's kid to a public school?  Is paying twice for your child's education a need, Ricardo?  Furthermore, tax dollars are routinely used to fund preferences; just look at the federal stimulus bill, otherwise known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  How much of the trillion dollars went to necessary causes?


Ricardo Pimentel's editorial showed angst that parents, when given a free choice, would choose private schools over public schools.  If that were to happen, public schools like MPS would hemorrhage students and the per-pupil funding that comes with them. As public schools begin to shrink, teachers unions would lose their members as they sought work elsewhere.  Ultimately, it would result in fewer funds for unions and less influence over the Democrat party. There are reasons Ricardo doesn't like school choice, it just so happens they have nothing to do with educating our children.




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