Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Chapter 220: The Other Choice Program

While conservatives are trumpeting themselves as inner-city activists who are truly interested in expanding the educational choices of inner-city black youths, they are in the next breath not at all afraid to call for the restriction or even elimination of another program that gives black inner-city students the choice to receive an education at very successful districts in the suburbs. I am, of course, referring to the Chapter 220 program, which was enacted in the mid-1970s after a long school desegregation battle in Milwaukee.

Chapter 220 allows black students from Milwaukee to attend predominantly white suburban schools and white students from the suburbs to attend predominantly black schools in the city (although 220 has always been, in practice, a one way street out of the city). The voucher program, similarly, allows low-income students from Milwaukee to attend a private school in the area. The intent of Chapter 220 is racial integration while the intent of school vouchers is to afford inner-city youths a private school education; however, the effect of the two programs—giving inner-city youths school choice—is the same.

How, I wonder, can conservatives so fervently support the voucher program while simultaneously attacking the Chapter 220 program, which has the same effect of giving black inner-city youths choice in the school they attend? Some may turn around and ask why Democrats support Chapter 220 while opposing the unbridled expansion of the voucher program, but the answer there is clear: Liberals believe in putting state money and resources into public education ahead of private schools. That’s a consistent liberal belief.

Although conservatives traditionally believe in private, free-market forces and a smaller government, that’s not what the school voucher debate is about. Conservatives are not asking that private schools philanthropically reduce their tuition rates so that inner-city youths can afford them. What they’re doing is proposing the expansion of a government program that will need to be paid for through an increase in taxpayer dollars.

Where’s the ideological consistency? If this is simply about giving educational choices to inner-city youths, why oppose Chapter 220?

Some will probably answer that Chapter 220 costs more than the voucher program. But if this is just about cost, why use deceitful attack ads to disingenuously make it out like the choice debate is about conservatives helping inner-city black youths and Democrats like Doyle standing in the schoolhouse door? Why not propose taking away the property tax relief already wealthy suburban districts get from state equalization aid for having 220 students, thereby bringing its costs down? Why propose, instead, to simply eliminate Chapter 220?

The more conservatives oppose successful choice programs like Chapter 220 and Democratic proposals to expand the voucher program while also providing property tax relief to Milwaukee families, the more it’s going to become obvious that this debate isn’t entirely about helping inner-city youths.

My guess is you won't hear a peep from conservatives about choice or standing in the schoolhouse door the next time Chapter 220 enters the public debate.

It’s ok, though. You can always tell the inner-city youths who benefit from 220 that their choice just costs too much.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A quote from Charlie Sykes:

"Although Wisconsin taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the program, there has never been a comprehensive analysis of the academic achievment of the students in the program."

He's not talking about the voucher program...he's talking about Chapter 220.

The article is full of gems. It's fun to replace every mention of "Chapter 220" with "voucher program."

From Wisconsin Interest, Vol. 2 No. 1, "Anatomy of a Boondoggle: Taxpayers Don't Know How Much Chapter 220 Costs or Whether it Works--And That's the Way its Supporters Like It."

January 24, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Thanks for the citation. I'll check out that article and comment on it later.

January 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you raised a good question. Good enough to make me dig a little bit deeper into it.

There are 19 people listed as introducing the bill to get rid of Chapter 220.

There are 42 listed on the Darling bill to lift the caps on the choice program.

Only 8 (Albers, Bies, Lemahieu, Moulton, Musser, Suder, Towns, and Wood) signed on to both.

I doubt that you can draw too many conclusions by looking through those lists, but it would seem that you have 45 who know where they stand on opportunities for minority students. 34 for, 11 against and 8 who are very confused.

January 24, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Thanks for your comment. That was a good catch comparing the two cosponsors between the bills, although it's important to note cosponsors aren't the only supporters of a bill.

Plus, it's not just Republican politicians who are supporting vouchers and opposing 220. As the first anonymous commenter noted, conservative pundits like Charlie Sykes aren't exactly proponents of keeping Chapter 220. Although Sykes doesn't mean a thing when it comes to the actual vote on any proposal, he certainly carries a big stick when it comes to public opinion--which has an impact not only on this issue, but also on the election coming up this November.

I have a feeling that Sykes and others whould simply argue that 220 costs more. Although this doesn't explain why they would not propose fiscal reform rather than elinimation (and there is good reason why the costs are comparatively lower for voucher schools than public schools, as Folkbum noted on his blog yesterday and I echoed in mine), a big point of mine was to counteract conservative claims that they are supporting school vouchers solely out of their concern for inner-city youth receiving choice in their education.

January 25, 2006  

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