With all the recent discussion of health care reform, it is easy to forget that most children are going back to school this week. Education has been a sore spot for administrations of both parties and, while largely a state and local issue, solutions at both the federal and state level have been identical in many respects. If we only throw more money at the problem, the argument seems to go, the education system will improve. The argument ignores any number of other factors that contribute to a child’s success or failure, including but not limited to whether the child finds support in his or her studies at home, the quality of instruction, and whether children, especially in urban areas, are going to school in an environment free of violent crime. Some of these factors can be controlled by policy decisions; others cannot.
Wisconsin has been somewhat of a pioneer in the education area. School choice, hailed by many parents and decried by WEAC, has come under recent attack, and it appears that this trend is spreading. President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress recently shut down Washington, D.C.’s school voucher program to new students. The result of this decision was the placement of 216 qualifying students who had planned to attend private schools into 70 public schools. What is staggering about the decision is the level of violence and criminal activity in those schools, according to the Washington Post:
The report pays particular attention to the plight of the 216 students who had planned to attend private school before the administration rescinded their scholarship offers while Congress debates the future of the program. The study looks at the 70 public schools to which these students have now been assigned and finds there were 2,379 crime-related incidents, including 666 violent incidents (one of which was a homicide), for the 2007-08 school year.
Voucher programs have been successful in areas where they have been tried and have been used to give opportunities to groups that may otherwise face life at a disadvantage. These programs are not perfect (some improve performance in reading but not math, for example) and they do not solve the (many) issues facing today’s public school systems, but they could provide one of the pieces necessary to solve the education puzzle and afford students opportunities now. However, instead of facilitating change that is supported by some evidence of success, those currently in power are interested in following the same old routine and placating the same lobbyists. The negative long-term ramifications of these decisions are many and avoidable.