A critique of vouchers sent to me by an unexpected source

No matter how much I snarl and quibble with “My Buddy” my Buddy keeps supplying me with interesting material. Our correspondence predates blogs (ten years) and we have chewed over wars, civil rights, politics, gender related speculation and not least to me (big-shot-school-board-member that I am) – education.

One of our longest running disagreements has to do with school vouchers which Republicans especially have argued allow children in failing schools to escape to new more productive surroundings. I have not been insensible to this rationale and couldn’t have been after reading Johnathnn Kozol’s books (I was so angry I stopped reading Savage Inequalities and never finished it)

Of course, I had voted to support inviting a charter school into Duluth back in 1996 in what felt like minutes after being seated on the Duluth School Board. Public schools had been under attack since the Reagan years starting in the 1980’s prompted by the study and book “A Nation at Risk.”

Ironically, it was the President of the American Federation of Teachers, Al Shanker, who first promoted charter schools in reaction to the criticism of public schools. But the Duluth Teacher’s Union, indeed most teacher’s unions found Charters a threat once they were birthed, first in Minnesota, and then across the nation. During my first three years on the Duluth School Board I began a long correspondence with a Missouri educator who was lobbying that state’s legislature to adopt charter schools. I found documenting my experiences with the Charter beginnings in Duluth therapeutic, much as this blog and my first website proved to be. I shared that correspondence with Julio Almanza, the Superintendent who replaced Mark Myles, to give him some sense of the history that preceded his hiring. Julio never became a fan of Charters and was boxed in by two sides of a school board with wildly divergent views on the subject.

I’ve always told my Buddy that in the event of a truly failing public school system I could tolerate school vouchers. Of course, it can be argued that failing inner city schools were the product of chintzy spending by heavily rural state legislatures, however, that was not the case in Minnesota after 1971’s “Minnesota Miracle.” And I have one potent objection to vouchers – their use – diversion of public funding – to rich parents to send their kids to fancy private schools.

Well, my Buddy just sent me a thoughtful column by David Leonhardt which finds fault with vouchers and with the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos should she ignore the results of a study about the unimpressive results vouchers have wrought.

I doubt if this has convinced my Buddy to change his mind on vouchers but I’m gratified that he has alerted me to this voucher critique.