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The Case for Student Vouchers

Posted by Larry Doyle on February 8, 2010 2:00 PM |

Who would not make an investment that can generate a 20% better return at half the overall cost? The appeal of this investment is that it pays increasing dividends in the future. Are you interested? You should be because your tax dollars are being spent at an ever increasing rate to fund a lower returning investment at a higher cost, without the benefits of future dividends but the reality of higher social costs.

I am referring to my major interest in the use of student vouchers for the funding of secondary education. Time and again I come across stories of urban families who are desperate to get their children well educated in hopes of moving on to a better life. These hopes are evidenced by the overwhelming demand for admission to a charter school or access to a student voucher.

Regrettably, the teachers’ unions in our country maintain a stranglehold on the futures of many of our urban youth. How so? The unions’ support for the Democratic Party comes with the price tag of limiting both charter schools and the use of vouchers. What a shame!

I am not stating that the problem in urban education does not extend beyond the unions. It most assuredly does. What I am saying, though, is that I strongly believe the answer to the problems in urban education can and should be increasingly addressed via the growth of charter schools and the use of student vouchers.

What city extensively implements student vouchers? Milwaukee. How are they doing? Let’s review this morning’s Wall Street Journal, which writes¬†Milwaukee’s Voucher Graduates:

President Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget calls for a 9% increase in federal education spending, and he has famously said that the money should go to “what works” in education. So he ought to take another look at Milwaukee, where the nation’s oldest and largest publicly funded school voucher program is showing academic gains.

A report released last week by School Choice Wisconsin, an advocacy group, finds that between 2003 and 2008 students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program had a significantly higher graduation rate than students in Milwaukee Public Schools.

“Had MPS graduation rates equalled those for MPCP students in the classes of 2003 through 2008, the number of MPS graduates would have been about 18 percent higher,” writes John Robert Warren of the University of Minnesota. “That higher rate would have resulted in 3,352 more MPS graduates during the 2003-2008 years.”

In 2008 the graduation rate for voucher students was 77% versus 65% for the nonvoucher students, though the latter receives $14,000 per pupil in taxpayer support, or more than double the $6,400 per pupil that voucher students receive in public funding.

The Milwaukee voucher program serves more than 21,000 children in 111 private schools, so nearly 20% more graduates mean a lot fewer kids destined for failure without the credential of a high school diploma. The finding is all the more significant because students who receive vouchers must, by law, come from low-income families, while their counterparts in public schools come from a broader range of economic backgrounds.

Vouchers are of course taboo among most Democrats, and Mr. Obama has done nothing to stop Congress from killing the small but successful voucher program for poor families in Washington, D.C. The Milwaukee program has survived for 20 years despite ferocious political opposition, and it would have died long ago if parents didn’t believe their children were better off for it.

Remember, America’s future is about the kids. It is not about political parties and political lobbies. Defendants of the status quo will scream that vouchers and charters can not be implemented on a larger scale.

I would maintain it is high time we try. Our national 50% urban graduation rate is not only a travesty, but a death knell for our future economic prosperity.

Keep your unions. Keep your political parties. Keep your pandering and posturing. Give me some sense on cents.

Listen hard to the kids and families who want a chance at life.


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