Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Real Voucher Debate: One Conservative Taker

UPDATE: Peter DiGaudio at "Texas Hold 'Em" had some technical trouble on Sunday and as a result lost most of his original post that I discuss below. He has since re-created the post, and the substance is virtually the same as the original post, but some of my quotes below may not match-up with the new version. I have a copy of the original post that I plan to send to DiGaudio later in the day, so he can have the option to re-post that version.
I want to thank Peter DiGaudio at “Texas Hold ‘Em” for being the first conservative blogger I’ve read to post something that actually focuses on the real debate concerning the expansion of the school voucher program in Milwaukee. The style of DiGaudio’s post should be a model for conservatives like Charlie Sykes and Jessica McBride on this issue.

DiGaudio starts by pointing to a post of mine that lays out the two sides of the voucher debate. At first, he criticizes me for linking to an actual policy proposal by Doyle, while only linking to a Journal-Sentinel article for the Republican proposal. As a matter of fact, I tried to locate a written proposal by Vukmir and Darling on the web but couldn’t find one. I felt vindicated when DiGaudio himself had to contact Vukmir and Darling directly in order to get more complete info on their proposal.

As it turns out, once DiGaudio heard back from Vukmir, the actual Republican proposal is hardly different at all from the proposal I outlined in my post. There were two points I left out since they didn’t appear in the JS article; however, as DiGaudio notes, these are two points the Doyle proposal and the Vukmir/Darling proposal have in common (nevertheless, these have been since added to my post). This led DiGaudio to conclude: “To this point, the In Effect posting is relatively accurate, but not intentionally.”

Although I can’t figure out how my accuracy was unintentional, DiGaudio goes on to list three previous legislative bills that Doyle vetoed in an attempt to point out that Doyle once opposed the very legislation he proposed on November 4, 2005.

The first bill that DiGaudio lists, AB 126 (2003), supposedly deals with academic accountability in the voucher schools. DiGaudio doesn’t, however, go into detail on exactly what the bill entailed. In fact, this is the bill that proposed a privately-funded study by the Legislative Audit Bureau. As I’ve noted before, voucher schools had the option of participating in this study that would have taken place over 12 years, thus making it a bill about optional reviews that simply serve as a front for the type of classroom accountability Doyle and other Democrats are advocating. What Doyle is supporting in his current proposal is mandatory state-run WKCE standardized testing in all voucher schools, which is something very different than a voluntary study.

The second bill mentioned is AB 259 (2003), which DiGaudio asserts would have eliminated prior year eligibility rules for the voucher program. In actuality, along with eliminating prior year eligibility rules, this bill also would have completely eliminated the income eligibility cap in the voucher program and the enrollment cap in the voucher schools. It’s true that Doyle’s current proposal does advocate eliminating prior year eligibility rules, but signing this bill would have also meant eliminating the income eligibility cap and the enrollment cap in the voucher program—both of which Doyle didn’t support then and doesn’t support now. Instead, Doyle is currently advocating for raising the income cap from 175% of the poverty level to 220% of the poverty level and raising the enrollment cap from 15% to 18%.

The third bill DiGaudio lists is AB 3 (2005), which also proposed completely eliminating the enrollment cap on the voucher program. As I just mentioned, Doyle was not for this then nor is he for this now. Instead, Doyle is proposing to increase the enrollment cap from 15% to 18%.

(Note: DiGaudio lists a fourth bill, AB 698/SB 345, which deals with expanding the Racine charter school program--an aspect of Doyle's current voucher expansion proposal--but this bill has not yet made it to the governor's desk nor has it even passed the Senate.)

DiGaudio then goes on to explain how Doyle could never be a supporter of the voucher program in Milwaukee because he has received large contributions from WEAC, the teacher's union. DiGaudio claims that WEAC is content with failure because the government has “essentially a monopoly” on education, thereby allowing teachers the freedom to fail as they please. The voucher program, in DiGaudio’s argument, is therefore a threat to teachers who are fearful of losing that monopoly (evidently state-licensed teachers aren’t hired at private schools).

In actuality, the government does not have a monopoly over education. While it’s true the government has a monopoly over public education, there are hundreds of private schools that exist around the state (not to mention home-schooling) and—as far as I can tell—WEAC has never advocated shutting them down. Simply because most private school tuition is too high for most middle and low income families doesn’t mean that the government has “essentially a monopoly” on schooling. And just because WEAC opposed the school voucher program since its inception over a decade ago does not mean they fear competition or are content with failure; to be sure, there are numerous teachers in extremely successful districts like Whitefish Bay and Homestead who support WEAC and oppose the voucher program despite the highly unlikely scenario vouchers would ever be used or even academically necessary for their students.

DiGaudio then turns his attention to SAGE. He claims that Doyle is “demanding an additional $50 million in funding” for the program. DiGaudio goes on to argue that increased funding isn’t going to make the program any more popular; instead, he asserts, the program should be made more flexible in its requirements. Perhaps flexibility in the program is a worthwhile agenda, but Doyle is actually not making any demands to increase the general funding for the program to make it more popular.

Doyle’s proposal is to increase the funding per participating student from $2000 to $2500 starting in the 2007-2008 school year. Hence, the funding increase, which isn’t even happening within the current budget, is not aimed at making the program more popular, but rather the goal is to make it more useful by providing more money to districts that already have chosen to implement the program. And to suggest SAGE or other educational programs shouldn’t be considered along with the school voucher program, which DiGaudio does, is to suggest that the voucher program exists in a vacuum that has no impact on nearly 85,000 MPS students who are not currently a part of it. To make that assumption is to engage in short-sighted policymaking.

Lastly, DiGaudio claims that Doyle’s proposal to gradually over five years allow MPS to count 45% of each voucher student when calculating state aid is a “WEAC demand.” Actually this part of the proposal is the idea of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. It’s meant as a way to assist Milwaukee city residents who otherwise are carrying an extra financial burden with the voucher program due to the way state aid is calculated for school districts and the impact of that calculation on property taxes. While someone is certainly free to take issue with this, WEAC is not to blame.

Once again, I applaud DiGaudio for being the first conservative blogger I’ve read to get into the real debate. This is exactly the type of public debate we should be having on the cheddarsphere, on talk radio, and on television programs like “Milwaukee Insight” concerning the very important school voucher issue.


Blogger Peter said...

Thanks .. I have no clue as to why half of that post disappeared. I have a public yahoo email I use: if you can, email the original post to: I will read your post here more thoroughly. I skimmed it.

I have some new stuff to add to it and hope to get it up tonight.

Hopefully once I get Haloscan set up we can debate more efficiently. I have to use the $20 version to be able to block that spammers that were giving me fits with the comments section.

January 23, 2006  
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February 02, 2006  

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