his recent trip to Milwaukee to observe that city’s voucher system,
New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani characterized the program
a huge success and suggested that NYC should replicate it, at
least on a limited scale. However, some members of his delegation
disagreed with his assessment and met with three members of the
Milwaukee Board of School Directors to further assess the issue.
Board of Education member Dr. Sandra Lerner explained that they
visited two outstanding voucher schools and spoke with a group
of parents whose children receive the funding. They were “talked
at” about the virtues of the program and repeatedly heard the
code words, “parental choice,” when in fact, the few thousand
dollars allocated to each student is not adequate to cover private
school tuition. Thus, most Milwaukee voucher schools are faith-based.
Board member Terri Thomson regretted not being shown any public
schools. Anti-voucher members of the Milwaukee board were not
invited to dialogue with the visitors.
Greg Brooks, the new member to the NY Board went to Milwaukee
hoping to find answers to his city’s education problems. Instead,
he said that he learned it was “not about education at all, but
about politics and money.” He was subjected to “canned language,”
especially the phrase ‘poor children have as much right to go
to private schools as rich ones.’ He recalled the word “entanglement”
being used a lot, as in, “We do not want testing, as that would
entangle the state in our business.” Exasperated, Brooks wondered
why they would want to become “entangled with state dollars.”
NY Board member Dr. Irving Hamer came back reaffirmed in his opposition
to vouchers. He cited five reasons: 1) additional resources are
not allocated for vouchers, so money must be taken from public
schools; 2) there is no accountability—private schools, using
tax dollars, are not required to show their records, administer
statewide tests or reveal test scores, follow teacher certification
standards or release data on attendance; 3) education is meant
to serve democracy, not drive the economy; 4) vouchers are a form
of deregulation, and deregulation has not been successful; and
5) there is no conclusive research anywhere that supports vouchers.
The Milwaukee Board members who oppose vouchers include Jennifer
Morales, who explained that the program is imposed by the state
and the Board has no control. “It steals money from us, and we
don’t like it,” she said. Peter Blewett denigrated “the myth of
school improvement” because of vouchers, explaining that draining
money from public schools has meant cuts or elimination of services,
programs, and supplies. Charleen Harden, whose district is 75
percent African-American, refuted the notion that vouchers help
minorities, saying they are simply a form of “corporate welfare.”
The New York meeting was convened by the NY chapter of the American
Jewish Committee (AJC), Emergency Campaign Against Vouchers, Educational
Priorities Panel and People for the American Way. Noreen Connell
of the Educational Priorities Panel explained that Mayor Guiliani
has been a long-time proponent of vouchers but does not have public
or City Council support on the issue. He arranged the Milwaukee
trip to bolster his case.
AJC’s Diane Steinman, who co-chairs the Emergency Plan Against
Vouchers, said vouchers have been opposed for decades because
they undermine public education, which is essential to our democracy,
and pose a threat to separation of church and state.
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: email@example.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of
the publisher. © 2001.