Supporting the expansion of education vouchers in Wisconsin

I’m on a permanent vacation. (I think I just decided that this morning. What is it about a breakfast buffet that gets you to eat ten times your normal morning calories? Oh, wait. That answer is chocolate chip chocolate cream cheese muffins.) So, unlike the carefully crafted, proof-heavy writing you sometimes find here, it’s opinion again today.

Governor Scott Walker announced he plans to expand the school choice voucher program available in Milwaukee to a number of lackluster districts across the state. From funding to results, this argument gets messy. And although there’s plenty of empirical evidence provided by test results, I don’t know that I’ve seen much surveying the benefit of a school change for the entire student and the student’s family.

Let me disclose my children started in a small Catholic school. I took them all out by 5th grade. They simply needed a bigger pond to better serve the variety of interests they were developing. We lived in a good district, so I never worried. But many school districts in our state have been beaten back over a couple of decades. Poverty, union demands to retain tired educators, bloated and ineffective programs; there is so much that creates a bad school district.

Those who argue against Wisconsin Parental Choice point first to the fact that funding traveling with a student reduces the budget of a struggling district. Keep in mind that funding usually transfers to a district where there is no union representation.

It’s hard to separate the School Choice argument from Wisconsin’s teaching union. Those union leaders keep fanning the flames. Matt Kittle writes in the Wisconsin Reporter today the proposed expansion could “spark another Act 10-style battle.” Of course it could. The decision could also pass relatively unnoticed given the current Republican stronghold in the Wisconsin legislature. There are people who only get paid if they keep you unsettled. Those are the folks Wisconsin needs to remove from this discussion.

Driving last week, I caught part of a Milwaukee Public Schools board meeting. (WUWM. 88.9 is my music station of choice, but they interrupt their programming to broadcast these meetings.) One of those members was gushing over a new marketing plan on which the district had recently spent a boatload of money. This plan would save them, attract the best and brightest students back to the district, put money in the bank, and there would be rainbows and unicorns for all!

Ah hah, I thought. The district realizes they’ve failed their constituency. They will work to find new students. They will compete, and in education just like any other marketplace, that competition should result in a better product.

That’s what expanding the choice program to other districts will provoke. Those districts will need to compete to keep students from going to a neighboring, perhaps even a religious, school when the price of tuition is no longer a barrier. Parents may now choose an educational environment best suited for the family, not simply attend one based on district lines.

By the way, I always find it interesting the unions go after Wisconsin Parental Choice and not Chapter 220 or Open Enrollment laws. I suppose the WPC program involves the larger number of potential transfers, so it becomes the target. In the past when I have argued against Chapter 220 I was labeled racist. Those programs keep students in union organized schools. Now that I’m arguing for the same transfer opportunity for a student outside of union control, I’m still called a racist. (They find that word so helpful, don’t they? ;) )

The good, the bad, and the ugly:

–It’s good if kids have an opportunity to experience an education outside a failing district.

–It’s bad that Scott Walker announced his plan to the Associated Press before taking it to local news sources or *gasp* the legislature first. The man is posing, and that’s no fun to watch.

–The ugly? Well, that one goes to WEAC, et. al. yet again. There’s no way I’d trust any story that comes out of the union mouthpiece without testing it myself first. But, you can bet they will be trying to sway the argument.