By Aaron M. Rodriguez
On Tony Evers’ campaign website, he discloses a plan for Wisconsin’s schools that many conservatives can find quite palatable. Who can resist a platform of fair and sustainable funding, safe and respectable schools, innovation that works, the recruitment and retention of good teachers, and maintainable graduation rates. I would hope that every DPI Superintendent would aim for such objectives. What is missing however, are fair and sustainable choices for parents. Evers’ plan presupposes that the most effective way of educating our children lies strictly within the confines of “traditional” public schools. Therefore, his plan is narrow, rigid, and inadaptable to the trending of socioeconomic conditions within society.
What one finds on Evers’ website are the generic liberal policies that go hand in hand with the failures we’ve seen in the larger counties of Wisconsin. What we don’t see is the recognition that parents are the key to a child’s education, and therefore empowering them with more choices will lead to uninterrupted educational achievement. The power of choice includes lifting caps on charter and virtual schools, so parents aren’t limited to the traditional schools in their neighborhood. The power of choice includes increasing participation in voucher programs so that children of low income families have an opportunity to receive quality education like kids in the suburbs. Parents want the power of choice now, not a promise that MPS will clean up its act eventually.
The most significant downfall with Evers’ campaign platform is his lack of support for the voucher program. The Milwaukee voucher program started in the 90s and was the first of its kind in the nation. The concept of vouchers is fairly simple. It gives parents a choice to send their kids to a school best fit for them, not being forced by the government to send their kids to the most geographically proximate school in the area. Not only does the voucher program free the hands of parents, but it saves the government a substantial amount of money.
Currently, it costs taxpayers roughly $13,000 to send a single kid to a public school. The value of a voucher made redeemable at a private school is about $6,000. Therefore, a single student using the voucher program will save the government close to $4,000 to $5,000. In 2008 alone, 18,500 students (about 2% of the student population) using the expanded voucher program saved state taxpayers 32 million dollars . The voucher program is a cost effective system that provides those on the lowest economic rung of society the power of choice.
Recently, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published a report by the University of Arkansas that headlined “Study finds results of MPS and voucher school students are similar.” Liberal bloggers jumped on the news with invigorated enthusiasm. Blogger Ed Garvey asserted,
Now that the report on voucher schools is out, the proponents of school vouchers have egg all over themselves. After an unprecedented propaganda blitz and tens of millions of dollars spent on this ideological nonsense, based on assurances that privatization of education (vouchers) would lead us into the promised land, the report finds it is a flop. No difference in performance even though voucher schools have fewer, if any, special needs kids.
One of the things that stuck out as bizarre was the gleeful tone of Mr. Garvey’s comment. He was delighted that the voucher program didn’t produce significantly higher test results for students in the areas of Math, Science, and Reading.
Here’s a thought, how about being delighted that inner city, poverty-stricken families have an equal opportunity to send their kids to the schools of their choice, all the while savings the state millions dollars a year in the process? How about considering the fact that public schools have been around since the late 1800s, and the voucher system is simply in its stage of infancy, Therefore, it is expected that test results will improve as the program is finely tuned.
There is no egg on our faces. JSO's published study is the product of a two-year analysis limited to select students in grade school and junior high. The study itself concludes that the best way to determine effectiveness of the voucher program is through a vigorous longitudinal study “over time,” not based upon a two-year snapshot. Also, the study did not publish findings on the disparity of achievement between MPS and Voucher students in high-school. It may very well be the case that a study on the voucher program focusing on high-school students would show voucher students outscoring MPS much like the 8th graders did.
Undoubtedly, the biggest advantage Evers has on Fernandez is his overarching experience in education. In fact, it is such an obvious edge that liberal bloggers and journalists alike have accentuated this point in their published endorsements. The “experience argument” has always drawn widespread appeal to audiences because of its persuasive power. Experience provides individuals with “know how,” a consequence of learning from mistakes and an aptitude of finding new ways to secure success. The weakness of the experience argument, however, is that experience does not entail good judgment or good leadership.
This weakness was fully exploited during the November election when the U.S. citizenry elected a presidential candidate with indubitably the least amount of legislative and executive experience in U.S. history. In fact, they not only chose a junior senator from Illinois, but they dismissed a high ranking senator with more than 30 years of legislative experience. Why would people overlook McCain’s experience, one might ask? The answer is simple – extensive experience does not entail good judgment or good leadership. This is even clearer when we consider the recent decade of auto manufacturer and banking failures that have transpired under the watch of experienced CEOs. Again, it demonstrates the immutable truth that experience does not entail good leadership.
Tony Evers, the candidate of experience, has spent 7 years as the Deputy Superintendent of DPI – a position second only to the State Superintendent. In the past 10 years, student enrollment has decreased significantly while fringe benefits for teachers have increased disproportionately, MPS expulsions have tripled, high-school truancy has risen to 72%, and graduation rates have dipped down to 46% (among the lowest in the nation). This string of facts shows that Evers' experience has not empowered him to be a good leader. Like John McCain, Tony Evers is entrenched in the same failed policies of the past. MPS is a miserable failure, and everyone knows it.
Rose Fernandez is the only candidate in the DPI race that offers solutions to problems not available to candidates married to local unions. Although unions are an integral part in the theatre of fighting for the rights of employees, they have become a stumbling block in opening the door of educational opportunity to struggling families. Liberal bloggers are quick to point out that “voucherizing” is an attack on the public school system while ignoring the fact that it provides disadvantaged families with the same opportunities as the middle and upper class.
The notion that the voucher program is an attack on the public school system is a red herring. The public school system is only a mechanism used for educating our children, it is not an end (in and of itself) that needs saving. Educating our children is the primary objective. If MPS, for example, is not providing parents with an efficient, cost-effective product, then as consumers and taxpayers, parents have the right go elsewhere to get it. This brand of competition will only force the public school system to compete with the private sector ultimately striving to produce a low cost and high quality education.
Rose Fernandez is the ultimate advocate for parents. As the State Superintendent of DPI, she will fight to provide parents with every advantage or edge they desire as guardians of our children. It is only through the power of choice that we, as citizens, have an opportunity to clean up school districts that perform poorly and have continually failed our children.