Jewish World Review June 14, 2002/ 4 Tamuz, 5762

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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The sum of all fears in vouchers


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The Arizona Education Association, desert arm of the NEA, refused to endorse Arizona's current Superintendent of Public Instruction for re-election because Superintendent Jaime Molera is pro-choice, a voucher guy. A Milton Friedman disciple and free marketeer, he understands that competition increases quality and decreases price. No self-respecting teacher is going to let him get away with that prattle, studies aside.

In fact, a 2002 study by Harvard University, the University of Wisconsin, and Mathematica Policy Research, not exactly bastions of conservative thought, concludes that vouchers are to low-income children what Kaplan SAT review courses are to yuppie progeny. Dramatic improvements come from both.

After 3 years in private school, courtesy of the School Choice Scholarships Foundation, voucher students' reading scores were 9.2 percentile points higher than their counterparts left behind in public school squalor. Voucher kids' math scores are 11.80 percentile points higher. Even those students with just one year of voucher private school improve significantly. Some 1.2-million inner-city families now scramble for 40,000 vouchers.

And for all you believers in the great racial divide, vouchers are a bridge for your schism. The most dramatic improvement in voucher kids was among black children.

Education has not proven to be the great equalizer, but vouchers could be if these racist teachers would let them rip. But, as the AEA's shunning of incumbent Molera indicates, teachers won't support vouchers or elected officials who choose choice.

Worse than the refusal of vouchers opponents to accept the unassailable and embarrassing data is their hypocrisy. Even public school teachers have their children in private schools. One noted, "You can't get successful students out of the old model of public education." A 2002 Heritage Foundation study shows members of Congress, who never met a voucher program they wouldn't tank, to be private school junkies. Forty percent of the House and 49% of the Senate (compared to 10% of the general population) have their cherubs at the likes of Sidwell Friends and other snooty enclaves.

Leading the pack are Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass), and John D. Rockefeller (D-WVA), who voted against vouchers even as their children attend private schools tout a fait.

Lawmakers resist vouchers despite unequivocal evidence because teachers and their union, along with accompanying PAC funds, are the power behind their views. But, why do teachers fear vouchers and choice?

As the Senate Charlie McCarthys say for their ventriloquist educators, school choice "undermine[s] public schools." Of course school choice undermines public schools. That's the idea. Hopefully, vouchers would shut down half of the public schools, about the number that fail miserably in educating their charges.

Voucher opponents also offer up the trite argument that vouchers take money away from public schools. Of course they do, but they reduce public-school headcounts even as they deliver results for one- half to one-fourth the per-pupil cost of public schools. New York's Catholic schools deliver quality education for $2,300 per K-8 pupil and $5,500 for high school pupils. New York's public school budget per pupil is $9,739. But you get lower scores for that extra money.

So great is teacher fear of vouchers that they employ that irretractable sword of litigation, preferably in federal court where Carter and Clinton appointees are sympathetic to the preservation of public education's fiefdoms and abysmal status quo. Florida, with charter schools and vouchers, is besieged by litigious wenches of the classroom.

But, Florida is not alone in fighting the coup 'd grace of all voucher objections: violation of the establishment clause. A suit challenging the Cleveland voucher system that allows government funded-vouchers to be used for tuition at private religious schools is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court will have a tough time declaring such K-12 vouchers unconstitutional when Pell grants and federally-guaranteed student loans abound at SMU, BYU, and Notre Dame. The United States already has a voucher system that has spawned the finest system of higher education in the world, a thriving, growing, universal-access system with everything from community colleges to Ivy Leagues.

Teachers' fears of vouchers rest in job security, but such fears are unfounded. Additional data from Heritage also show that, with time, public schools improve under voucher systems. Vouchers create discomfort as monopolist schools and teachers realize competition's unforgiving demands for results. Teachers have choices under a voucher system: they can close down or they can get better. Too bad such an opportunity is declined by the ironically inaccurate sum of teachers' fears.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2002, Marianne M. Jennings