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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ugghh...not voucher talk again!

In our opinion.

Curtis Coleman addressed Little Rock’s Political Animal’s Club early this morning. Mostly he talked about cutting taxes (though, as you'd expect, not about the elimination of services those cuts would cause).

He did, finally, touch on education.

He said he was for school choice. Lest you be confused like I was, he wasn’t espousing legally expanding school choice between school districts. Nope, he meant the school-voucher-kind of school choice.  Not that he used the V word until questioned specifically about his meaning, but, yeah, he was talking about vouchers.

The V word was then followed by that tired ol’ platitude that the free market system is all we need to fix our schools.

Funny how the free-market system in education always entails public funds following students to private schools.  That’s government-subsidized business, isn’t it? Free market folks always want government to stay out of the way, yet they also want government money.

Really…this makes sense?

But let's say you follow Coleman’s so-called free-market process and let public funds follow kids to private schools, here’s what you’ll get: More and more folks will come out of the woodwork to open “private” schools. 

This is what happened with charter schools. Some – many, even – were well-meaning individuals with their hearts in the right place. They wanted to serve challenging student populations. But, often, they either underestimated the resources it would take to run a school or they knew too little about educating kids.

One of the most heart-breaking days I experienced while at the Arkansas Department of Education was hearing testimony about how students in a failed charter school (privately run) were several academic years behind their counterparts when the charter school closed and they returned to their local public schools.

We not only let these entrepreneurial educators experiment with our kids, we let them cause harm.

Granted, in Coleman’s world, there will be some high-achieving private schools. And, I’d bet, these will be located in the more affluent areas of the state because that’s where they can recruit and attract the faculty that will help them be successful. They will also very likely cater (simply by where they place their facility) to the higher-achieving students who will also make them look more successful. 

This will only exacerbates the problem this state has been working so hard to rectify: a situation in which kids from better off families and in more affluent areas of the state are more likely to have an exceptional education while poorer kids and kids in poorer parts of the state have fewer opportunities to sit in well-equipped classrooms taught by bright, talented teachers in up-to-date school buildings managed by progressive educational leaders.

So, instead of producing a better system, vouchers would make it worse.

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