Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers made some headlines the other day grousing about the expansion of school choice.  His critique was admittedly more "run-of-the-mill," but his conclusion was both specious and brash.  In Evers' memo he said, "To spend hundreds of millions to expand a 20 year old program that has not improved overall student achievement, while defunding public education, is morally wrong."

Certainly, we've heard arguments about how voucher schools have problems with accountability, they score flat on standardized tests, or that expanding the program would have an attenuating effect on the funding of public schools.  But nobody of real public standing has actually suggested that the program itself was immoral, a suggestion that would inculpate parents, teachers, legislators, and whole organizations.

From Evers' perspective, spending money on a defunct program that could have been spent to fund public education is immoral because it harms the children left in public schools.  The argument is simple in an Occam's Razor sort of way, but it's also very fallacious.

The first premise of Evers' argument is that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) has shown no student achievement in 20 years.  This credibility of this premise is vitally important to finish the rest of Evers' argument.

What Evers doesn't tell us is that students in MPCP, according to the University of Minnesota, graduate at rates 19.5% higher than students at MPS.  This is huge problem for Evers, something he has to explain.  Sure, standardized testing shows that students at MPCP and MPS score more equivalently in subjects like math and reading, but the single most important indicator of student achievement is not WKCE scores; it's graduation rates.

When applying for a job, an employer doesn't ask if you took the WKCE, but whether you graduated from high school.  Evers purposely swept MPCP's graduation rates under the rug in order to show that the 20 year program didn't justify its own existence.  What Tony Evers did was not only deliberate, but it was fraudulent.

Evers' second premise, although not explicit, is that funding choice schools comes at the expense of funding public schools.  Imagine a teeter-totter where one seat goes up only when the other end goes down.  This is how Evers sees funding distribution for choice and public schools, which is erroneous.  As McIlheran points out, funding for choice schools doesn't "come out of a public schools' pile."  They are funded entirely apart much like the funding for state patrol and tech colleges.  The problem isn't so much that public schools are seeing a cut, but that choice schools are seeing an expansion.

In his memo, Evers complained that the legislature was considering bills that exempted voucher schools from taking the WKCE; he complained they were removing income eligibility requirements; he complained they were expanding school choice into other cities; and he complained that they considered giving vouchers to disabled children.  With the exception of taking the WKCE, each of Evers' objections were really grumblings about expanding school choice period.  At the end of the memo, Evers says, "I urge you to restore funding for public schools and work collaboratively to improve the quality of all Milwaukee schools before considering any voucher expansion."

I underlined the last part for emphasis.  Evers thinks we should continue waiting for public schools to get their act together before we consider expanding the school choice program.  Someone should ask him how long we're supposed to wait until real reform occurs.  About a dozen or so studies from different universities have shown that the closer voucher schools are to public schools, the better those public schools tend to perform.  That alone shows that school choice is not harmful to children in public schools.  Then we factor in that students in MPCP are graduating at rates 19.5% higher than their public school counterparts.  Together, we have a solid reason to expand the program beyond the confines of Milwaukee.

Evers should stop pretending that his opposition to school choice is about the children in Milwaukee.  If it were, then expanding school choice to all children should be the goal.  What it comes down to is that bureaucrats like Evers think parents aren't perceptive enough to figure out what school is best for their children.  As a community, we need to send a message to bureaucrats like Evers that we're tired of them obstructing education reform simply because it didn't originate in public schools.

 

At a press conference in Racine, DPI Superintendent Tony Evers gave his harshest criticism of school vouchers yet.  Well beyond the typical quibbles over test scores and graduation rates, Evers claimed that school vouchers were de facto "morally wrong."  It's not every day that a State Superintendent of education accuses an education-reform program of being immoral.  In doing so, Tony Evers may have bitten off more than he could chew.

Calling a school voucher program morally wrong inculpates more than just the program, it inculpates parents, teachers, organizations, lawmakers, and a majority of Americans that endorse it.  In fact, one could reasonably argue that Evers' statement makes himself morally culpable since Milwaukee's voucher program operates out of the Department of Public Instruction of which he is the head.  What does it say about the character of a man that knowingly administers an immoral program out of his own department?

In short, Evers' argument goes something like this: voucher programs drain public schools of their financial resources; drained resources hurt children academically; hurting children academically is morally wrong; ergo, voucher programs are morally wrong.

One of the biggest obstacles to Evers' argument are about a dozen academic studies showing that the closer voucher programs are geographically to public schools, the better those public schools tend to perform.  It really isn't much different than moving a Wal-Mart near a Best Buy.  By virtue proximity, free market forces will typically enhance the performance of both competitors and lower product prices as each try to acquire each others' customers.

Part of the problem with public education is the lack of competition.  There are no free market forces that keep them in check; they set their own agenda and their own prices.  For this reason, enrollment in public schools nearly double the cost of enrollment at choice schools.

Evers also mentioned that district resources in Milwaukee were being tapped because students from non-choice private schools were moving to choice private schools.  Forgetting the fact that he's just plain wrong, he's trying to stoke a bitterness between those who have the means to pay for private schools and those who don't.

Even if Evers were right, why hasn't he complained about students with the financial means of enrolling into public schools at the taxpayer expense?  Shouldn't it be just as egregious for millionaires to use taxpayer resources to send their kids to public schools as it is to use the same resources to send their kids to private schools?

Recently, Democrats have argued that removing income limits from Milwaukee's voucher program would allow the children of millionaires to enter the program on taxpayer money.  Of course, this all misses the point that millionaires will choose swanky private schools to under-performing public schools.

At the Walden School in Racine, Tony Evers made an argument he couldn't win.  To date, there is not a single study showing that voucher schools have harmed the quality of public education.  Superintendent Evers, on the basis of no academic research or verifiable data, attempted to diminish an education reform program that produces better graduation rates than public schools.  Evers' remarks are unfortunate, and his view on vouchers undermines his ability to keep education reform a top priority.

 

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