Monday, June 04, 2012
Ed Beat (EWA)
EWA asked participants to contribute blog posts from some of the sessions at our 65th National Seminar, held May 17-19 at the University of Pennsylvania. This entry is from blogger Alexander Russo of This Week in Education.
Session: Are Vouchers Making a Comeback?
Participants: Scott Elliot, Indianapolis Star (moderator)
Robert Enlow, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
Thomas Genzel, Pennsylvania School Board Association
What the two main combatants in the voucher session didn’t know during their feisty but unsurprising encounter at EWA’s 65th National Seminar was that the issue they were discussing would be one of the highlights of a Q and A session the next day with Newark mayor Cory Booker.
During the session, Friedman Foundation chief executive officer Robert Enlow made the case that there had been a “national explosion” in voucher proposals and new laws, the most notable being the new law in Indiana and an even more recent one in Louisiana, and that vouchers provided choice, accountability, and excellence.
His opponent, Pennsylvania School Board Association executive director Tom Gentzel, fought back with calm rather than heat, arguing that there wasn’t much need, or compelling evidence of worth in the voucher concept. There was already more than enough choice, according to Gentzel, and the possibility that vouchers could quickly turn into a new entitlement program was one of the many reasons that a Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature hadn’t passed a voucher law during the session that just ended.
The moderator, EWA board member and Indianapolis Star education reform reporter Scott Elliot, pushed back doggedly at both sides, pointing out among other things that vouchers had the potential to give low-income kids an option that they otherwise didn’t have. Gentzel responded was that there were already nearly 75 charters in his state and that it made no sense to create and pay for a second system.
The research is inconclusive, the new voucher programs haven’t yet been evaluated, and each state’s charter environment and funding system is different. Enlow and Gentzler went back and forth, articulating arguments that were familiar to many but steering clear of any real possibility of convincing each other.
Then, a few hours later, Mayor Booker exploded any remaining notion that only Republicans support vouchers by noting that he was OK with them too – that he “didn’t care” what kind of school it was, as long as it was a good one, and that he couldn’t tell parents and students to wait while the system improved itself.
According to the Friedman Foundation, other current Democratic mayors who support vouchers include Antonio Villaraigosa (from Los Angeles), Greg Stanton (from Phoenix), and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who stumbled his way through a voucher question at a recent conference in San Francisco essentially admitting he wasn’t opposed despite the difficult politics. Former Democratic mayors who supported them include Baltimore’s Kurt Schmoke, DC’s Adrien Fenty, and Atlanta’s Andrew Young.
Private school vouchers may indeed be making a comeback – with Democratic lawmakers as well as Republican controlled state legislatures.