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.