Monday, April 7, 2008

U.S. School Choice growing leaps and bounds

The Alliance for School Choice reports that in the last 5 years, enrollment in private school choice programs such as vouchers or scholarship tax credit programs have increased by 84%.

This increase comes from 16 different choice programs in 9 states and the District of Columbia, while 40 states introduced legislation providing for school choice. It looks like momentum is gathering to introduce education options across the country—it’s not a fanatic minority but a groundswell of multi-faceted support.

All told, 150,000 children are being educated under these programs and guess what! The public schools have not come crashing down around our ankles. Ohio’s program doubled in just one school year, and I’ve visited Ohio recently—public schools are not one fire and brimstone is NOT raining from the heavens.

The most shocking part of the Alliance for School Choice’s report for Missourians will be the fact that ¾ of programs passed by state legislatures over the past 2 years have happened because of Democratic support. Yes, I said Democratic support, but which I mean many legislators across the country with a “D” after their name voted for school choice programs in their state. We really can’t say this is a “right-wing” effort by people who want to destroy public schools: it’s clearly bipartisan across the country with a substantial number of democrats, the stalwarts of the public schools, realizing that for kids to succeed, some changes have to be made.

I’m a left-leaning Dem, but I like to think of myself as being logical more than party-affiliated, and more loyal to my values than I am to any institution or party line. I see the potential right now for “change” if you’ll pardon the buzzword, and it’s inexcusable to repeat the epithet that schools will change if we just ______, or kids will succeed if we can just ______. We don’t have time, however, to wait or a trickle-down effect, because we’re losing an entire generation of children as we speak. We need better options for students now, and we have them all over the country. All we have to do is say “You’re allowed to move out of your neighborhood to find a school. If you don’t have enough money, we’ve got some that we’re supposed to use on your education anyhow.” It is really that simple.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal:

"If we do not dramatically transform the way we train our high school graduates, the gap between the skills of our work force and the work will widen and cripple our economy. And more Louisiana families will continue to leave our state in search of opportunities to pursue their dreams," Jindal said.

This quote speaks volumes about the need for drastic reforms in education. I might call it a drastic case of the Peter Principle (which happens when a worker is promoted to the level of his own incompetence) but I may get into rhetorical trouble. Our business economy, in all its resplendence and diversity and vitality, has left behind the component that makes that possible: a diverse, vital and well-trained work force. They call it a “force” for a reason—because nothing happens without it. Nothing is pushed or pulled in any direction and no entities have cause to interact. There is no trade, no commerce, no invention and no production.

Because education is how we prepare a generation to, put simply, work—or participate in society and economy, it makes sense that education should mirror some of the characteristics that make a strong workforce. Choice, competition and reward come to mind as areas where education has not taken its cues from the marketplace, and it has resulted in a weakness and a lack of preparedness that is affecting many generations of children.

Henry Clay once said, “Of all human powers operating on the affairs of mankind, none is greater than competition.” Yes, he’s the dueling one. And he facilitated the Missouri Compromise.

Harnessing that power to improve and sharpen public education seems a worthwhile endeavor. Many critics claim that people will abuse their choice, but quite frankly that’s not a good enough argument against a “right”. Most rights can be abused, and we can curb and punish abuse, but the fear of abuse has never held up in this country as a reason not to extend a right.