PSEA: Public schools cornerstone of democratic society
In New Jersey, where I worked for 29 years, the Supreme Court ordered the state to send aid to poor districts so that they would have similar resources to rich ones. Over the next decade, test scores in the poor districts increased, in some cases dramatically. But the current secretary of education in Pennsylvania says that "money doesn't matter." Why then do wealthy people send their children to expensive private schools with small class sizes and the most modern learning tools? But then, the secretary's degree is not in education, but in political science, as if we needed more proof that what's driving the voucher train is politics, not education.
Mr. Ostrich writes: "No study has ever shown harmful effects to either (voucher) recipients or public schools." I guess he's unaware that in 2007, a study was published by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank that has supported school choice for almost two decades, when Milwaukee became the nation's premier center for trying the idea. The institute is funded in large part by the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, an advocate of school choice.
The author of the study stated: "Relying on public school choice and parental involvement to reclaim (Milwaukee Public Schools) may be a distraction from the hard work of fixing the district's schools." The report found no appreciable long-term benefit either to voucher recipients or public schools.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel newspaper did a study in 2005 and found that parents given vouchers often "chose bad schools and stuck with them." Even former Milwaukee Superintendent Howard Fuller, one of the heroes of the school-choice movement, now admits that he may have "oversold" the idea.
The Commonwealth Foundation says it is "independent." How can we tell? They also won't open their books, because their big donors are probably big corporations and millionaires who want to break unions, especially teacher unions.
My final point: Even as a Catholic school graduate, I don't want my tax money going to religious schools (my late father would have called the voucher program "welfare" -- a great irony, since conservatives like the Commonwealth Foundation supposedly oppose welfare).
Public schools are a cornerstone of a democratic society. They take people from all races, nationalities, and creeds and try their best to make them productive citizens. In large measure, they are a great American success story. As all human institutions do (see the Catholic Church), America's public schools have problems. But please don't allow people who only want to amass more political power to fool you into believing that they care about poor children. Those same people have opposed almost every political measure to blunt the effects of poverty for the last 100 years.
(Robert P. Broderick has worked for the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Education Associations for 34 years. PSEA represents more than 191,000 active and retired school and health care employees. Broderick attended St. Michael's Grammar School and St. Peter's Prep (both in Jersey City, NJ); the University of Pennsylvania, and Northwestern University. He lives in West Chester.)