Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Conservative Flight From Vouchers

A fascinating article on why conservatives have abandoned vouchers:
In recent months, almost unnoticed by the mainstream media, the school voucher movement has abruptly stalled. Some stalwart advocates of vouchers have either repudiated the idea entirely or considerably tempered their enthusiasm for it. Exhibit A is "School Choice Isn't Enough," an article in the winter 2008 City Journal (the quarterly published by the conservative Manhattan Institute) written by the former voucher proponent Sol Stern. Acknowledging that voucher programs for poor children had "hit a wall," Stern concluded: "Education reformers ought to resist unreflective support for elegant-sounding theories, derived from the study of economic activity, that don't produce verifiable results in the classroom." His conversion has triggered an intense debate in conservative circles. The center-right education scholar Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and a longtime critic of public school bureaucracies and teachers unions, told the New York Sun that he was sympathetic to Stern's argument. In his newly published memoirs, Finn also writes of his increasing skepticism that "the market's invisible hand" produces improved performance on its own. Howard Fuller, an African American who was the superintendent of schools in Milwaukee when the voucher program was launched there, and who received substantial support from the Bradley Foundation and other conservative institutions over the years, has conceded, "It hasn't worked like we thought it would in theory."


Ryan said...

It should be noted that Florida just approved funding for 6000 additional students to receive vouchers, bringing total voucher funding here to $118 million. This represents about a 1/3 increase in state funding programs.

Jim Horn said...

The school voucher is the Freddy Krueger of the ed reform movement, an urban legend that will not not die and that gets resurrected in another guise in subsequent bad plots to kill off public schools.

Sol Stern is not the only conservative who is tired of the innumerable sequels, but that does not stop the scripts from pouring in. Ryan mentions the one in production in Florida, with the added twist of a ballot measure this coming fall to neutralize the Florida Supreme Court position that everyone thought had killed the monster.

Other manifestations include the current Bush version called Pell Grants for kids ($300 million proposed), or some such nonsense. The most prevalent, however, is the type of corporate voucher that gives corporations tax breaks for handing out vouchers to destroy public education. New Jersey has one under consideration, which is backed by Cory Booker and the crooks of E3. Kanas just voted one down, and Utah is about to resurrect another one. And then there is Ohio and DC, and of course, Milwaukee. With Jay Greene's shop funded for another four years to study the Milwaukee voucher results, it doesn't seem like that this Freddy is likely to be retired any time soon.