Monday, February 06, 2006

I got a homework a bar

I was down at my local pub the other night and instead of picking up a delightful, young trollop, I picked up a homework assignment. What kind of crap is that?

I blame Gregg for this - and I mean that literally. He's the one who gave me the assignment to blog about something kind of controversial.

"I want you to blog about school vouchers," he said.


Before I even get going, let me tell you that I really did start doing some catching up and I learned a bit. But I also have to admit that I find myself really not caring that much. Bad attitude? What can I say - I'm a victim of my own public school education.

Wisconsin has been a pioneer - as it were - in the area of school vouchers. The Milwaukee Public School District was one of the first cities to try out a voucher pilot program. There have been several precedent-making court decisions to come out of challenges to Wisconsin law and the MPS program.

The voucher program - to simplify the concept - is returning tax money paid for education to parents so that they can use it to pay for private school tuition rather than sending their kids to public schools. There are really two main flavors of this - one for the poor and one for the wealthy (or, at least, well off).

The Milwaukee pilot program - started in the 1990s - is geared toward lower income families. The idea was that city public schools were failing many children and parents shouldn't have to sit by without a choice. The results have been mixed.

Parents of students that took advantage of the program thought it was great and their participation increased. That's great in my book. Parents should be more involved in the education of their kids. Interestingly though, test scores have not followed suit. There hasn't been an increase in test scores or any other measures of learning.

Also, after the first couple of years, there is a pretty high rate of students leaving the program. It's hard to track because many left because of moves from the area. Reasons for leaving among those who were contacted fell into three main categories - time factors (like travel time to and from), unhappiness that the private schools were still to secular, and disappointment in the lack of variety in extracurricular activities.

More recently, the program was expanded to include private religious schools. For some, it has meant being able to stay open. There was even one new school opened as a direct result of the program. The results have apparently been the same as with the smaller initial program.

One unexpected problem with the program is that it isn't based on a tuition cost formula. That means private schools have been able to include the value of their buildings to the equation and in many cases double the amount the state has given them per student.

Anyway, that's the local background. Around here, it's a big issue.

What's my opinion? Well, mostly I don't like the idea of vouchers. That's not to say that I don't think that public education is deeply flawed, but I don't really see why some parents believe that they should get a tax break for sending their kids to private schools. Under that kind of reasoning, I should get the same amount of money back because I don't have any kids.

Maybe a lot of it has to do with the two flavors. For parents with kids in big city schools where there are many problems, I can understand the frustration they must feel. There just seem to be many options and they just want the best for their kids.

I would also include parents with special needs kids in this group. In a lot of cases, their kids just won't get the extra attention needed in a public school. Let's face it, there aren't many teachers gifted enough to deal with special needs students. These parents and kids deserve to have other options.

My problem is more with the parents that have the means to send their kids to private schools, but don't want to feel the tightening of the belt it would require. You own a house? Have a decent car? Have a job that pays good money? Screw you. Pay the tuition then. I grew up with a father who worked hard and mom who chose to give up working to raise my brother and myself. They were both active in my education. Mom volunteered down at school and my Dad got elected to the school board. They didn't moan about how little time they had - they just dealt.

At one point, my parents considered sending me to private school. If they had, they would have paid. It would have been a sacrifice, but they would have paid.

When we moved to California, they actually did send my brother to a private school because the elementary schools were so bad. My brother had broken his arm at recess and the teacher wouldn't believe that he was hurt and needed to see the nurse - so they were naturally skeptical about the quality of education he might be getting. And guess what? They paid for his schooling.

Anyhow...I don't mind paying tax dollars for public education. I took advantage of it and it made me a better person who can read, write and figure the tip at a restaurant. I certainly want the next generation to be able to do at least the same.

Don't ask me to fund your kids' private education though. Get a job and do it yourself unless you're going to help me fund a sweet new car because I don't think it's right to be limited in my car buying options and I can't be expected to pay taxes for schools I don't have any kids at and buy a hot ride too.

Hmmm...maybe I do care a bit.

Sorry for being a bit lengthy on the one hand and way too brief on the other. Maybe there are some other opinions out there. If so, feel free to jump in with them.


tshsmom said...

I have mixed feelings on this too. I originally thought that the voucher system would wake up the public schools, and make them competitive. No such luck!
Up here, all I see is additional tax money spent bussing students 30+ miles to their chosen school.

It's an idea that was worth trying, but it doesn't seem to be the answer.

The Zombieslayer said...

Heh. I used to be totally against vouchers but now I'm completely indifferent.

Along those lines though, I get really mad when someone asks me to fund their child care. I get especially mad when they're middle class. I have to hold myself back from killing them when I find out they drive a brand new SUV.

Melissa said...

I think you have some pretty pertainent points here. I think I should get money for not having children also.

Considering the amazing overpopulation of the planet..and our ability to fight natures remedies to that situation (like a crazy world flu). We need to control our breeding.

We basically pay welfare mothers to breed. Shouldn't we also compensate the non-breeders? That way we can ensure that only stupid poor people will rule the planet in a couple of generations. Excellent!

Okay, I may be exaggerating, but doesn't it make the story better?

I have recently discovered that welfare will cover diapers and baby formula, but not condoms...does that sound like an incentive program to you?

What is answer? You should blog about that.

tshsmom said...

Melissa, you're soooo right!! I've been worrying about our future gene pool for a long time now!

Shawn said...

I think it's easy to generalize and say the government encourages welfare moms to have kids, but most people tend to overlook the even greater incentive plans the government provides to encourage people to marry and have children. It's easy to say welfare is out of control...but the real welfare program is the tax breaks given to 'traditional' families.

That's a whole other post though. Sure it's expensive to raise kids and all, but those deductions get paid for by someone and as a single guy I tend to be that someone.

On the voucher thing though. It just doesn't seem to prove out that the kids get a better education. The only thing that rises substantially is the parent's satisfaction level with the schools.

The problem is much greater than just tossing around a few vouchers will cure. The problems tend to be bloated administrations, bad teachers being tenured into their jobs and parents not participating in their kids' educations.

Unfortunately, most politicians and people in general are like water and will seek the easiest route. It would be hard to fix? Let's privatize it and let someone else deal with it...

tshsmom said...

I personally don't think there should be ANY tax deductions. It should be a flat rate payed by EVERYONE.