From the Wall Street Journal:
School Reforms on the Brink
The empire strikes back in Milwaukee and NYC.
The education establishment and its political allies employ multiple methods to keep kids trapped in rotten schools. One tactic is to use control of school boards to prevent or limit the creation of charter schools. Another is to smother existing voucher programs with rules and red tape. Real world examples are currently playing out in Milwaukee and New York City.
The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program provides vouchers for some 20,000 low-income, mostly minority children to attend private schools. Because the 20-year-old program polls above 60% with voters, and even higher among minorities, killing it outright would be unpopular. Instead, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle wants to reduce funding and pass "reforms" designed to regulate the program to death. The goal is to discourage private schools from enrolling voucher students and thus force kids to return to unionized public schools.
To that end, Democrats in the state legislature voted last week to cut per-pupil payments to private schools by $165 while increasing public school spending by $400 per student. Taxpayer support for students in the program is only $6,607 per student to begin with, which is less that half of the $13,468 for students in Milwaukee public schools.
Those funding cuts would be accompanied by mandates of dubious academic benefit. One regulation would require schools that have already been accredited to meet additional accreditation requirements. Another would force schools to offer expensive bilingual programs that suck up scarce resources and are spurned by most immigrant parents who want their children taught in English.
The irony is that satisfaction and enrollment at Milwaukee public schools has steadily declined despite these very policies that choice opponents want to impose on successful private schools. A recent evaluation of the Milwaukee choice program found that its high school graduation rate was 85%, compared to 58% for students in the city's public schools. Between 1994 and 2008, the voucher program saved taxpayers more than $180 million. Yet opponents insist these schools need additional regulations to make them more like the public schools that cost more and produce inferior results.
Meanwhile, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is in a battle royal with the teachers union and state politicians who want to strip him of mayoral control of the schools. Since 2002, the Mayor has been able to hire and fire the schools chancellor and appoint a majority on the city's Board of Education.
Academic results argue strongly for continuing the policy, which expires June 30 unless state lawmakers renew it. According to the latest test scores, 82% of children in grades three through eight scored at or above grade level on this year's standardized tests, up from 74% last year and 57% three years ago. Mayoral control has also eased the expansion of charter schools, many of which are performing better than the district schools. In Harlem, where 19 of the 23 elementary and intermediate public schools are failing, all of the third graders at the Harlem Success Academy passed the most recent state math exam and 95% passed the English exam.Before 2002 New York had fewer than 20 charter schools because the United Federation of Teachers, the dominant local union, blocked their growth. Thanks to mayoral control, there will be more than 100 charter schools in New York next year, which is one reason that the teachers union doesn't want the policy to continue. The great moral outrage of our time is the way the public schools establishment puts its interests ahead of children, trying to kill every school choice program whatever its success. Genuine reformers should be shouting from the rooftops.
I also noticed in the comments section, Scott Walker, Milwaukee County Executive, made a post:
Wisconsin is headed in the wrong direction when it comes to education reform. If anything, kids in Milwaukee need more choices. We should lift the cap of 20,000 students and allow any great school – public, charter, choice or virtual – to provide the type of education needed by each individual student and their family. Parental involvement in a child’s education should be celebrated – and not litigated (or dragged down by a bunch of bureaucratic mandates).
Milwaukee County Executive
When the items of the budget are voted on, will the Democrats representing the families and children attending school choice schools stand up for them by voting against the reduction in funding and "reforms" designed to regulate the program to death? Or will they sell out to WEAC once again?