After Tony Evers - our State Superintendent of Education - said he would consider expanding the enrollment of the virtual and voucher schools programs, it started a panic among some local liberal journalists and bloggers. Lisa Kaiser over at the Express Milwaukee called privatizing public education "the erosion of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS)." And Terrence Falk, over at Larry Miller's Blog, accused Republicans of trying to cut the Teacher's Union off at the knees.
Neither accusation focuses on the major gains that voucher programs have made in the past 10 years, especially in areas of test scores and graduation rates. And after all, isn't quality education keeping the most important thing the most important thing?
An interesting poll by Gallop shows that 79% of Americans grade national public education at a C or lower and have done so for the past 25 years. Yet on a local level, 77% of parents give the schools that their children attend an A or a B. This means that although public education is considered a national failure, parents are less likely to view it as a local problem and more likely to think their own kids are unaffected by under-performing schools. Unfortunately, this is a serious problem for education reform.
In Terrence Falk's diatribe against the GOP, he stated that the problem with MPS is not district size, but a "high percentage of minority schools living in poverty." Yet the household income levels of children that participate in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) are 15% lower than those at MPS. Shouldn't the performance of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, by Falk's logic, be far worse than MPS? And yet "Public schools in Milwaukee would have graduated nearly 20 percent more students between 2003 and 2007." Correspondingly, data from the University of Minnesota showed that 18% of students in voucher schools are more likely to graduate than students that attend MPS.
Why is this significant? Data shows that workers with a high-school diploma, on average, earn $7,000 more per year than those who never graduated from high school. More startling is that those who graduate from college with 4 year degree make nearly twice as graduates from high school. And finally, those with Doctoral degrees make nearly twice as much as those with B.A.s from college. The pattern shows that the greater the education, the greater the income.
Historically, Democrats have carried the torch of being the party for the little guy; but this is not the same as being the party of the little guy. Democrat leaders are known for promoting public education while sending their own children to private schools. They do this because private schools perform better and graduate a higher percentage of students than public schools. In fact, public schools in our nation's largest cities have averaged a graduation rate of merely 50%. And in Milwaukee just a few years back, MPS graduated a paltry 46% of its students. So why are Democrats still resisting the expansion of voucher schools?
The voucher program gives a solution to low income families forced to attend under-performing schools because of where they live. It offers parents the right to access the best private and public schools that participate in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
For nearly a century, public schools have been failing due to centralized planning. It's simple: the bigger the school bureaucracy, the smaller the voice of the parent. However, according to Milton Friedman - a Nobel Prize winning economist - introducing education to the free market makes the bureaucracy more responsive to consumer demands. This means parents, who generally have a greater concern for the education of their children, would have the power to improve education for their children.
Public school education is not only an educational problem; it's a fiscal problem too. Since 1970, spending on education has increased by 190% while performance rates have stagnated. Furthermore, those who are sending their children to private schools are paying twice for their child's education through taxes.
Centralized planning bucks up against the free market, which incentivizes improvement through competition and consumer demand. In a free market enterprise, consumers ultimately decide what products they want. By way of their pocketbook, consumers choose how much company produces, what they produce, and the quality in which they produce it.
Similarly, voucher schools make parents the consumer. They can choose where to send their kids based on what a school teaches and how they teach it. And the best part is that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program saves taxpayers $30 million per year. Who could reject more parental control and better graduation rates for nearly half the cost?
To ensure educational reform, it's absolutely essential for voters to understand where their local legislators stand. One of the biggest problems we have as a Hispanic community is supporting voucher schools while voting for candidates that don't - one name that comes to mind is freshman legislator Jocasta Zamarripa. Unless we vote for more parental control and a market-driven school system, my fear is that real educational reform will never happen.