The Electric Commentary

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Vouchers and Accountability

Last weekend I saw Milton Friedman on Charlie Rose's show, and they got to talking about school voucher programs. During the course of the interview, Friedman made the following analogy. Imagine that your goal is to feed poor people. Do you create a program that gives vouchers to poor people that can be used on food, like the food stamp program, or do you instead subsidize grocery stores?

Subsidizing grocery stores would be stupid, of course. It is much more effective to subsidize the consumer of the product. If you subsidize the producer, any price decrease that does occur will be spread through the general population, and it is very likely that the poor would never see a penny of that subsidy. The producer can simply keep the subsidy as profit. Democrats generally favor the food stamp program, and while it is not as efficient as it should be, in the grand scheme of government programs, it works pretty well.

Yet, when it comes to schools, Democrats tend to favor subsidizing the producer. When schools fail they call for more funding. This basically amounts to corporate welfare. It is subsidizing the grocery store. It should be natural for Democrats to favor voucher programs, but, as we see on the front page of today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, this is not the case. Instead, they have spent all of their efforts into turning Milwaukee's largely successful voucher program into a bureaucratic nightmare. The biggest problem is the artificial cap on the program's enrollment.

The state has placed an artificial limit on the number of total seats in the voucher program, and as a result, all of the charter schools at the beginning of the year have to submit an estimate of their total enrollment. They are then allocated a fraction of that number based on the total number of seats claimed throughout the system. This is asinine:



Here is how the rationing formula proposed by DPI would work: The number of potential voucher students listed in the Feb. 1 applications would be totaled. The cap total (14,500) would then be divided into the total potential seats, yielding a fraction. Every school would then be allotted that fraction of the number of voucher seats it told the DPI it could take.

The applications submitted last Feb. 1 called for 29,266 potential voucher students for this fall. That was roughly twice the actual cap, so if the formula had been applied to the current school year, every school would have been allotted about half of its claimed seats.

One of the great positives of the voucher program (which is often portrayed as a negative) is that lousy schools generally fold up after one year. Some never get going at all. There is one notoriously bad school which I believe was called Alex's Academics of Excellence. This school fueled some Democrats to call for greater accountability among Milwaukee charter schools. What they failed to realize, of course, is that AAE ceased to exist shortly after its reputation started spreading. A comparable public school likely would have been rewarded with thousands of dollars, but they want greater accountability for charter schools. Right.

There are still bad schools in the charter system, of course, but most of them never manage to open, either because they suffer from incompetent management, or because word gets around and parents refuse to enroll their students. This wouldn't be a problem in the free market. The kids would just move to a school that has proven to be successful.

However, this is not the free market. Remember that artificial cap?


But about 45 of the applying schools on that list of 171 never actually opened, accounting for more than 5,500 of the total seats. And only six of the 171 schools had actual enrollment of voucher students in September that matched or topped the number they gave the DPI.

Brian Pahnke, an assistant state superintendent of schools who oversees the voucher program, said there was no way in the formula to distinguish between, say, Messmer Catholic Schools, which said it could take up to 993 voucher students in kindergarten through 12th grade and actually had 761, from "Elijah's Brook God's Nation Children School," which said last February that it expected 350 students and never opened. The rationing fraction would have been applied to each equally, even though that would have resulted in a sharp cut in seats at Messmer and allowing the other school to have perhaps 175 seats.

Pahnke said there was nothing DPI could do to check if the numbers being claimed in this year's applications are realistic or to prevent schools from playing games with how many seats they claim - other than that eventually they could not put more kids in a building than an occupancy permit allows.


The state created a rationing program, and they're surprised when people submit inflated requests in an attempt to extract the maximum value from the commons that they have created. This is what Milwaukee charter schools have to deal with.

At least they capture the opinions of a few pro-voucher advocates raising the possibility of simply eliminating the cap, as it is the most obvious solution, but judging by the politicians that they quoted in the story, there is little chance of that happening. This makes no sense at all. If there is a great demand for vouchers and charter schools, and there is, why should government be restricting that choice? These are their constituents, after all. Unfortunately, many Democrats don't see it that way:


"To the extent that accountability and transparency is not taken care of, we will still have schools that are weak, and some of them troublingly weak, that we don't have any information about," said state Rep. Pedro Colon (D-Milwaukee). "Good schools will have to realize that if they want to continue to grow and prosper, they are going to have to have more transparency, because we have to start figuring out which of these schools do deserve funding, and which ones don't." (Emphasis added)


Here we have a perfect display of the cluelessness of some public officials. The entire point of the voucher program is to take responsibility away from politicians and grant it to parents. Pedro Colon has shown no ability in the past to decide which schools are succeeding. Milwaukee Public Schools are, in general, absolutely terrible. Why would we want the people responsible for that debacle in charge of deciding who gets what in this promising system. As usual, government has created an artificial problem (scarcity of voucher seats) to assert its power.

Governor Jim Doyle (Democrat) actually proposed raising the cap slightly, but the bottom line is that there is no need for a cap at all. Parents provide more accountability than the state ever could, and as more bad schools continue to close down, and as good schools expand and their methods are copied, the voucher program continues to succeed. Unfortunately, most Democrats are content to sit back and continue to subsidize the grocery store.

Update: There's more at Boots and Sabers.

19 Comments:

  • the obvious difference between food stamps and education however is that for education, government IS the provider... and who could pass up a chance to subsidize themself?

    but obviously, yeah, it's a huge inconsistency.

    By Blogger ahren, at 11:12 AM  

  • Very nicely done.

    By Anonymous elliot, at 1:21 PM  

  • Democrats aren't stupid, but they are beholden to teacher unions, who I strongly suspect are as obstructive on this issue as they are anything else that might improve our schools (other than of course pumping more money into schools & teacher salaries).

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 4:31 PM  

  • Paul, several points. One, you frequently refer to these schools as charter schools. Charters are a completely different animal and should not be confused with choice schools.

    Two, your analogy--rather, Friedman's--is faulty. The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program doesn't so much give people vouchers for food that was unattainable before as it does allow the poor to get their food from different grocery stores than the one that's available without the voucher. The poor in Milwaukee have access to a fully-stocked, varied and completely audited grocery store without the vouchers.

    Problem is, there is no way for us as taxpayers to know if the food they are getting at these other stores--whether they be long-established chain stores or fly-by-night storefront convenience stores--is of any quality. If we're going to be giving our money to the poor to get their food elsewhere, it would be nice to know (not necessarily to judge, but just to know) the inventory of these stores.

    Three, exactly one school, according to independent research published in 2004, had closed due to parents' decisions to leave the school. The Journal Sentinel series last summer recounted tales of many schools--more than just Alex's--that remained open despite clear and obvious evidence that the school was not up to the task of educating kids, and discussed in depth the program's supporters' admission that the "marketplace" just didn't work as they expected. Finally this last fall, for the first time in 15 years, the DPI challenged schools for not meeting the statutory definition of a "school," and that's only because this past summer the legislature gave them the go-ahead. How many millions of tax dollars were misspent in the 15 years before DPI had oversight?

    Four, the suggestion that "word gets aound" about bad schools is belied by that Journal Sentinel series and other frequent reporting on the program: Parents pick schools for all kinds of reasons, not just quality. Refer to this article, for example. Or the story of Academic Solutions, closed because of riots and because "no teachers had been present all day because teachers had not been paid." Yet the mother of a girl who went to that school said, mind-bogglingly, "her daughter [. . .] had been doing well at the school, where she enrolled as a sophomore this year. She said her daughter had been getting F's at Milwaukee Marshall High School but was getting nearly straight A's at Academic Solutions."

    If the parents were only spending their own money on these schools, I would feel bad for them, but mostly I would call it a sad case of caveat emptor. But it isn't their own money. It's my money, and your money, and every taxpayer in the state's money, and that requires some level of accountability beyond parents' joy at meaningless high-grade report cards.

    By Blogger Jay Bullock, at 4:41 PM  

  • Jay has pretty much nailed it.

    There have been serious discussions about expanding the "choice" program to all students in the State of Wisconsin (given an aligned Legislature and Governor.)

    Why not? After all, if the benefits of choice are a better education at less cost (at least in the longer run) then what's the problem?

    The problem is simple. It is State money. The State will legitimately demand accountability to certain standards--and that's where the sandpaper hits the ball bearings.

    Those "certain standards" will inevitably include coursework and may very well include teacher-hiring criteria. They may also involve religion, or the studied lack thereof.

    There is a well-known private non-sectarian school in the Milwaukee area which will NEVER take a "choice" dollar, regardless of the initial legislation's terms. They won't do it because they know that in the end, they will have to jump off the train.

    Think about this: Sykes is practically begging choice parents to get off their duffs and scream about the caps. This is the second time around during this fiscal year, and the first time produced little noise.

    I think this demonstrates that the Choice people made a strategic blunder. They should have gone for all-State-all-Students-all-Schools right off the bat.

    Had they done so, the momentum would be great enough that Doyle would not be able to screw around with the program. It's even possible that DPI would not be able to impose their "standards."

    All, well.

    By Blogger Dad29, at 8:20 PM  

  • Jay, you make many interesting points, but as luck would have it I was away from my computer all day, and my time is short at the moment. I'll try to address each point tomorrow, but here's a quick attempt.

    1. Charter schools and the voucher program are separate entities, but they are linked. Milwaukee basically uses a form of each. But you are correct in that I muddled them a bit in the post.

    2. Your point is that the subsidy fostered the creation of a new market, whereas with food stamps, no new stores popped up. Now who is conflating vouchers and charter schools? Had charter school not also become an option, you would not be correct. Instead, students would have fled for existing private schools and succeeding public schools to the best of their ability. The effect would have been lessened, because of fewer choices, but it would have been similar.

    3. If parents will not close a bad school, I fail to see how government will do better. But even one school having closed (and more than one have closed) in the free market is better than the the public school status quo. I wish that those fighting to close bad charter schools (and I applaud these people) would focus on public schools once in a while.

    4. Parents often screw up, that much is true. But when parents screw up, only one child is affected, and while that is a tragedy, the government also screws up, and when it does so, thousands are affected.

    Whatever individual examples you throw out there, it is undeniable that over the long haul, parents will choose for their children more successfully than government ever will.

    Finally, on your Caveat Emptor point, parents who make bad decisions cost us a few thousand dollars. Governments cost us millions!

    I applaud your desire for accountabilty, I just wish that you would focus it on both species of school with equal vigor.

    Are any of your (entirely correct) negative points about charter schools any less true for public schools, except on a larger, more expensive scale?

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 8:30 PM  

  • Often I have seen it argued by those who are employed by the government education system (and to the purely ignorant) that those of us who are critical of the system should simply exercise choice and pick a charter school or a private school. Choice, they say, is readily apparent and they don't understand when people continuously argue for choice in education. So, for clarity here I would once and for all like to set the record straight.

    The fact of the matter is that in Wisconsin we have choices but we do not have real choice? While that may sound a bit convoluted, it is nevertheless true -let me explain. As a parent I can exercise my right to send my daughter to any school I choose, the overriding state requirement is that education is compulsory and we are allowed to home school, or send our kids to non public alternatives. Therefore we have some choices as to where we send our children for the education that the state has mandated take place. But choices and real choice are not the same thing.

    As a taxpayer, I am compelled by the threat of conversion to pay real property taxes. As one who purchases other items and has earned income in the State of Wisconsin, I also pay sales tax and income tax. Each of these taxes are sources of revenue for the state and are used to fund the government schools; not a dime goes to fund home schooling, private or parochial schools. In fact, 100% of all income taxes collected go to fund K-12 education in Wisconsin (plus roughly 40% of property taxes). Therein lies the lack of true choice, more accurately described as real economic choice. For all intents and purposes, in a market economy, real economic choice or, simply, choice are synonymous.

    The issue then is as follows - as a parent raising a child it is my solemn duty, responsibility and, in fact, pure joy to provide protection and to see to the training of the mind of my child so that she can become an independent, rational, self-reliant person. This is not the exception, it is the vast rule among the vast majority of parents - there are relatively few who shirk this solemn duty. If I choose to send her to the local government school for this mind training, I fully expect to pay for it and I do - via the taxes already mentioned. However, if I make an independent decision as a parent that what is in my daughter's best interest is not attendance at Government Elementary, but rather Parochial School, I am exercising my parental rights and making a choice. Furthermore, I have to pay tuition at Parochial to exercise this state authorized choice because they do not receive funds from anywhere else. So, I have exercised my right granted to me by the state to send my daughter to a non-government school, however I have been denied the economic right to close the deal because I am still required to subsidize the education of other peoples children who attend the school that I deemed inappropriate for educating my child! I am being denied the economic right of choice by the state.

    This denial occurs because economic choice implies voting with dollars between competing choices - if you buy a hamburger at McDonald's but are required by law to also buy one from Hardees have you really made a choice? The fact that the state requires me to pay twice by not crediting to me the amount I have paid in tuition to exercise my parental rights over where my daughter is educated is simply and purely immoral. While I am educating my child, I have no obligation, duty or any other moral requirement to simultaneously pay for someone else's child to be educated! Unless, of course, I should choose to be truly benevolent. Moreover, when I am done educating my child my taxes will remain and I will continue to subsidize public education. The irony is glaring, by creating the socialist/altruist mentality that permeates the government schools they have removed from us the ability to engage in true benevolence.

    Economic choice is the foundation of our market economy. Private property is the storehouse of a citizens individual wealth, their only means of attaining real independence in a democracy. By expropriating capital with the threat of conversion of ones private property, the state has undertaken a direct attack upon capitalism and free markets. To fund government controlled and mandated education with the proceeds thereof with no consideration for the economic reality of the rights of parents to educate there progeny as they believe best is a direct frontal attack on individual freedom and liberty - the essential foundation and philosophical basis to which our Founding Fathers looked in creating this great country. The state might as well deny me the right of choices as well. This is, in reality for many parents, exactly what happens because only the wealthiest among us can afford to pay twice.

    Real economic educational choice is more than a tag line, it is more than a griping point, it is not a ploy by rich people to keep more of their money. It is one of the most fundamental issues we face in this country because it portends a future that implies either a socialist state or a truly free society. Those of us who argue vociferously for economic educational choice are on the right side of history and stand hand in hand with Adams, Jefferson, Paine, Henry, Lee and Washington.

    Who do you stand with?

    By Blogger Chris, at 9:15 PM  

  • Not that I am opposed to school vouchers, but Chris your argument/rant has many holes. The main flaw being that public school education and public services are obviously not about right to choose, but overall effectiveness. Lots of people pay for public education who don't even have kids. Should they have the right to step out of the program and pay no taxes? Why can't we choose other programs as well? Why can't I choose my post office for home delivery without having to pay for a PO Box? How about my water company (perhaps my municipality's water supply tastes bad)? My city's police are too fat, can I get somebody else's? I certainly cannot afford private security. Basically, the way gov't works is it requires people get involved, to make noise to fix the problems, or to move to where good schools, postal service, water & police are. Yes, this is easier if you are wealthy, but so is everything else. Also, the richest may be able the most able to afford private schools, but they also pay the most taxes towards schools. You pay for the opportunity to use these services because they work best when provided communally.

    Basically, I agree with your underlying point that choice is good. It should be afforded when practical, which in the instances above it is not. School choice certainly seems practical. You also have several other solid underlying points. Your rhetoric is over the top though. I only object because I get sick of rants which appeal to notions of freedom or this or that because they are often used to get people to ignore what is really best for everyone on some link to some principle which is extolled with grandiose speech. Ranting on ideals and using them as a basis for governing instead of practical ideas is how things get messed up in the first place. If there are some real, reasonable concerns over the effectiveness of the voucher program, its implementation should be molded to what works best. We should not simply dismiss their arguments because freedom is good socialism is bad.

    The other posters seem to be dealing with reality and should not take my post as directed at them.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 10:17 PM  

  • No, Paul, charters are not linked in any way to voucher schools. Charter schools are public schools, and the two terms are simply not interchangeable as you use them. For example, there is no widespread movement to "shut down bad charter schools." (You also seem to think there are more charter schools in Milwaukee than there are.)

    You seem to be of the opinion that charter schools were MPS's "reaction" to choice. They were not; the charter reform movement hit Wisconsin as it did nationally, concurrent but unrelated to the voucher law's passing, driven by different forces. The charter law is state-wide, not specific to MPS. At roughly the same time, too, the state made interdistrict choice available, as well.

    That's what's frustrating about people like Chris: Parents in Wisconsin have incredible choice in how and where they educate their children. Parents in MPS have an even greater wealth of options.

    The state, by virtue of our constitution, is required to make an education available. We do, and, despite what you may think, we are constantly trying to figure out how to do what we do better. (I can send you my billable hours this year for all the data analysis, long- and short-term planning, and curriculum revision I've done this year.) What Chris surely must recognize is that his (comparatively) small annual property tax payment to his school district (and other taxes) is not to pay for his child's education. It is his contribution, as a citizen of this state, to the education of all of our state's children. If he doesn't want to contribute, he can move somewhere else. In exchange for his contribution to the education of all of our children, Chris gets a chance to send his children, at no cost, to the schools he's helped pay for. He doesn't have to, of course, and if he wants to provide an education for his own child that is not subsidized by the taxes of the rest of us, then he's welcome to his choice.

    This is where, Paul, your grocery/ food analogy falls apart again. We all, as a state, pay for all children's education. There is no need to give vouchers to "the poor" who can't afford food since all of us are given roughly the same amount of money for food to begin with. I look forward to reading further tomorrow.

    By Blogger Jay Bullock, at 11:28 PM  

  • You seem to be of the opinion that charter schools were MPS's "reaction" to choice. They were not; the charter reform movement hit Wisconsin as it did nationally, concurrent but unrelated to the voucher law's passing, driven by different forces. The charter law is state-wide, not specific to MPS. At roughly the same time, too, the state made interdistrict choice available, as well.

    They are more linked than you let on. Charter Schools and Voucher programs are two separate educational reforms, but they are most certainly linked.

    Charter schools are an attempt by government to allow for the formation of schools that are not subject to usual public school regulations. They may take the form of magnet school, montessori (I apologize on the spelling, but it's late) etc. They are, as you say, essentially public schools, however they tend to be run by people outside of the, let's call it, education establishment. For a good example I recommend Joanne Jacobs excellent book Our School.

    Vouchers, on the other hand, allow low income households a subsidy so that their child may attend a private school. While charter schools are "public," vouchers programs, by their very nature, contribute to the enrollment of charter schools. They do so by openly presenting the option of school choice to those in the voucher program.

    But really, none of this matters that much. The fact is that Milwaukee has both, and while you cannot use these reforms interchangeably, both programs do share some aspects in common. Charter schools allow parents a choice, using taxpayer dollars. This choice is somewhat limited by rationing. Vouchers also offer low income parents a choice (a better choice actually), also somewhat limited by rationing. And the existence of a voucher program contributes to the growth of the charter program.
    Next, let's hit this:

    What Chris surely must recognize is that his (comparatively) small annual property tax payment to his school district (and other taxes) is not to pay for his child's education. It is his contribution, as a citizen of this state, to the education of all of our state's children.

    Ah, but does this make it a good idea? Let's go back to the food stamp analogy. If the constitution required the state to provide food, instead of education, is this the model that we would use? Maybe, but if that were the case, it is likely that Wisconsinites would starve in droves. So the question becomes, is your method of educational provision actually accomplishing the goal set out in the Constitution, and if not, doesn't said document mandate that we change that method?

    It is not a good thing that schools are paid for with other people's money. Such transactions breed inefficiency. You incorrectly state that Chris can send his kid to public school for free. That is only true if he does not pay taxes. Ignoring that cost is like living in a fairy tale. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

    Where we really disagree is in this:

    This is where, Paul, your grocery/ food analogy falls apart again. We all, as a state, pay for all children's education. There is no need to give vouchers to "the poor" who can't afford food since all of us are given roughly the same amount of money for food to begin with. I look forward to reading further tomorrow.


    We all pay for food stamps as well. So what? The issue at hand is how to generate the most efficient educational system.Or at least, a school system that produces semi-competent graduates. State schools are not run in the sam fashion as private schools. They are completely different animals. Some poor people realize this, but cannot afford the private option. Charter schools help by subjecting public schools to competition, but truly private schools are an even better option.

    Saying that there are enough choices available for the poor already misses the point. Public schools are a single choice and a single way of doing things.

    That's what's frustrating about people like Chris: Parents in Wisconsin have incredible choice in how and where they educate their children. Parents in MPS have an even greater wealth of options.

    Who are you to tell someone that they have enough choices? Perhaps we should ban twinkies from grocery stores. There are, after all, plenty of other good choices.

    No one decides if there are enough choices, except for the person charged with making the choice. If some poor kid wants to go to an excellent private school, or Milwaukee King, he should be able to do either. Simply stating that there are enough good options in MPS is naive, and also demonstably false. If it were true, the demand for vouchers, AND the demand for charter schools, would be met. The existence of state mandated artifical quotas indicated that it is not.

    I need some sleep.

    I'll have some more tomorrow. It seems to me that many complaints against charter schools can be levied against almost any subsidy program. Federal development bloc grants for example, or farm subsidies (Scotty Pippen has received over $100,000 in farm subsidies, after all).

    When the government gives out cash, it may well be abused. In fact, it almost certainly will be abused. My point is not that Charters nad vouchers are perfect solutions, but they are preferable to typical public schools, even if they are not perfect.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 12:09 AM  

  • Paul, let's be clear about something: You continue to mix up charter and voucher schools; in particular, you seem to confuse opposition to the voucher program with opposition to charters--of which there is none. Democrats, the teachers' unions, liberal bloggers--we don't complain about charters. We kind of like them, in fact.

    It is true that charters have wider lattitude in setting their curriculum and programs. But as public schools, charter schools are still required to follow the state's model academic standards, test their students on those standards, publish the data collected in that testing, and submit to the requirements of Noc Child Left Behind. Voucher schools do not have to do those things, and that's our biggest complaint about the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (which only encompasses voucher students): There is no transparency, accountability, or minimum standards.

    It boggles my mind how politicians who regularly stand on the porches of public schools with pitchforks and torches demanding standards and accountability remain so resistant to anything like that for voucher schools.

    I'm also not certain what you mean when you say, "While charter schools are 'public,' vouchers programs, by their very nature, contribute to the enrollment of charter schools. They do so by openly presenting the option of school choice to those in the voucher program." If the parents are in the voucher program, haven't they already been presented with the idea of choice? How did they get into the voucher school in the first place without it?

    I actually think that MPS does a much better job of presenting choice, since every fall it sends a book to every parent in the city which describes the district's more than 200 different programs and all of the available charters. Parents then get to choose, in January, where their children attend school the following year.

    And I never said that the 200+ options an MPS parent faces was enough; you're putting that word in my keyboard. I am simply frustrated when people say there is not choice when there is, in spades.

    As for the rest of Chris's argument, and whether or not it's "right" for all of us as citizens of Wisconsin to pay for the education of all children in the state, that is the subject of my own blog this morning.

    By Blogger Jay Bullock, at 8:38 AM  

  • I think I've been prett clear, by this point, about the fact that Charter schools and vouchers are separate entities. When I write posts like this I spend a lot of time talking about incentives, and incentives always link the two programs:

    "They do so by openly presenting the option of school choice to those in the voucher program." If the parents are in the voucher program, haven't they already been presented with the idea of choice? How did they get into the voucher school in the first place without it?

    You are putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. The voucher program provides an incentive to examine other schooling options. The answer to your question is that they got into the voucher school program because the option was presented to them.

    Now, I may be wrong about this, but it is my understanding that entrants into the voucher school program can choose private, public, or charter schools. Assuming that this is the case (and if it is not, it should be), both voucher schools and charter schools benefit from an increase in the potential pool of applicants.

    MPS does offer some choices, but if parents are not satisfied with those choices, is there a legitamate reason to stop them from doing so?

    I'm fine with having some accountability for voucher schools, but it would be nice if public schools at least caught up to them in accountability first.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 9:28 AM  

  • there are a couple of delusional statements being thrown around, but really this has to be #1:

    "as a parent raising a child it is my solemn duty, responsibility and, in fact, pure joy to provide protection and to see to the training of the mind of my child so that she can become an independent, rational, self-reliant person. This is not the exception, it is the vast rule among the vast majority of parents - there are relatively few who shirk this solemn duty."

    vast rule among the vast majority? that is a sweeping (and false) generalization with absolutely no validation. can i see the study that has data to support this? as a former public school teacher, i used to have parent-teacher conference nights where i'd see 8 parents for 150 students. that doesn't seem like a vast majority to me.

    something else i find confusing is paul's use of the term "voucher schools". i thought you could use a voucher to go anywhere, thus meaning every school would technically fit in this category. am i wrong? can vouchers only be used at select schools?

    for the record, i am a huge fan of school choice. also, and this may be false, i thought if you put your kid in private school you can get a tax break for the "double payment" idea (this may vary state to state).

    lastly, i think that, contradictory to the quote above, education in america will not see giant leaps of progress until more parents take active roles in their children's schooling. and this doesn't mean simply saying "i care". since this is incredibly hard to instill in people (and i'm completely opposed to telling people how to run their lives), school choice seems like the next best option.

    By Blogger ethan, at 9:57 AM  

  • oops. as to the phrase "voucher school" by paul i mean jay.

    By Blogger ethan, at 9:58 AM  

  • "Voucher Schools" are basically schools that exist only because voucher students provide funding.

    They are different than charter schools.

    Some of them do a nice job, but some are run by corrupt rent seekers who opened a school just to get voucher money.

    And I definitely agree that some parents don't give a rip, but I still trust them more than I do the government.

    If some poor kid's parents don't care, no amount of government intervention is going to make much of a difference.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 10:35 AM  

  • "And I definitely agree that some parents don't give a rip, but I still trust them more than I do the government.

    If some poor kid's parents don't care, no amount of government intervention is going to make much of a difference."

    i couldn't agree more. great thought-provoking post by the way.

    By Blogger ethan, at 11:54 AM  

  • Ethan, Paul: A "voucher school" is a school that accepts students under the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. In that program, parents choose from among about 125 private--i.e., not public or charter--schools that charge tuition to their other, non-voucher students. A "voucher student" is a student who attends one of those pre-approved private schools paying the tuition with a voucher. The total number of "voucher students" is capped at 15% of Milwaukee Public Schools enrollment (including all district schools and all charter schools within the city, but not including "voucher students"), or about 14,500. The number of "voucher schools," and the number of seats that they can claim to expect to fill with "voucher students" is not capped, thereby creating the rationing problem described yesterday. It isn't that suddenly there will be double the number of "applicant" students (I would guess that the number will go from 14,700 this year to maybe 15,000 next year). The problem is that schools in and applying to the program will ask for seats--and vouchers--for 30,000.

    I think I see where the confusion comes from, and it's a misunderstanding of the process. Every single parent in Milwaukee has the ability to send their children to any public or charter schools without restriction and with no need of a "voucher." Only those students attending these private "voucher schools" as defined and authorized under the MPCP need vouchers. Parents fill out paperwork for the state, but it is to the schools, not the program, that they make application.

    So yes, Ethan, vouchers may only be used at certain schools--those on the list from DPI as being in the program. Other private schools do not accept vouchers, and no public schools (and all charters are public) require them. So when Paul says, "entrants into the voucher school program can choose private, public, or charter schools," he's mistaken; vouchers are only for certain private schools. And right now, under long-standing Wisconsin law, parents can send their kids to any public (including charter) school in the district (intra-district choice) and any public school outside the district that has room to accept them (inter-district choice). Neither intra-nor inter-district choice involves vouchers in any way, shape, or form.

    It's also a misnomer to say that " 'Voucher Schools' are basically schools that exist only because voucher students provide funding." The number of students on vouchers in any given private school varies, from near 100% to just a handful--and with that variance comes a great difference in how much those schools rely on the state to stay open.

    By Blogger Jay Bullock, at 12:04 PM  

  • These are not my own private definitions, by the way; this is how the state defines the terms.

    By Blogger Jay Bullock, at 12:06 PM  

  • As a student I am not on-line all day, but Jay is right about the differences between Charter & Voucher schools. Paul seems to understand this, but how he sees the two interacting makes it seem like he is confusing the two because he is insisting that vouchers help charters by a rather tenuous assumption. Paul's assertion is that exposure to choice through vouchers increases charter school enrollment. People seem to be confusing this as Paul saying vouchers apply to charter schools, but he has not. Perhaps the reason for this confusion is that Paul's premise of how charters benefit from vouchers doesn't make much sense. If there are no vouchers, there are less other low cost choices for parents who care about education so it seems likely that more would utilize charter schools as they are the only schools available without a voucher program. Vouchers allow parents to seek alternatives to charter schools and thus would seem to weaken them by drawing off students. I really doubt that parents who care about education are going to ignore the presence of charter schools unless they receive vouchers. Also, the money going into vouchers comes out of the tax pool that pays for charter schools. That said, I do see some potential benefits for charter schools. First, if they are maxed out, then they may suffer little harm from a voucher program. Second, charter schools will have to compete harder against private schools if a voucher program exists. This competition may improve quality.

    I cannot really weigh the costs and benefits of each because it involves more of the intracacies of the Milw. school system (number of charters, enrollment, etc.) than I know. From what I do know, it really seems like a voucher program is beneficial. I don't know if uncapped vouchers would drain off too much money from the public schools, but it certainly is plausible.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 4:47 PM  

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