Whining Vouchers

June 2, 2009 | Blog

When school voucher advocates tell you that they support accountability for public dollars used to fund private education, check their credentials. They’re not all cut from the same cloth.

On the one hand, this is a great example of whining by school voucher inc. and opposition to all notions of public accountability. The overstated claims (“improved public school results”), fear mongering (“a thinly disguised effort to crush school choice”), and hyperbole (accountability “legislation” pro-voucher advocates “helped to develop”) is amusing.

The nation’s largest and most successful urban school choice program is in jeopardy.

Opponents seek to suffocate Milwaukee’s choice program with financial cuts and a barrage of red tape cloaked in the guise of “accountability.” Their strategy will mean a slow but certain death

In this case, it comes from an organization called the “Institute for Justice,” a self-described “libertarian public interest law firm” based in Arlington, Virginia. It was co-founded in 1991 by Clint Bolick — a right-wing activist with ties to Clarence Thomas and a track record of opposition to civil rights legislation, including orchestrated right-wing attacks on Lani Guinier, President Clinton’s appointment to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Along with Kenneth Starr — yes, that Ken Starr — Bolick was involved in defending the Milwaukee voucher program in the courts on behalf of the state of Wisconsin back in the 1990s (hired by then Guv’nah Tommy Thompson).

Here’s what former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley said about the Institute for Justice in 1997: “It is quite clear to me that the Institute for Justice has something in mind other than helping all children get a good education. In his pursuit of vouchers, Mr. Bolick seems eager to gut some of the most fundamental civil rights laws of this land — in particular, laws that have done so much to help disabled children and young women get the best education possible.”

Caveat emptor.

Over at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Alan Borsuk reports of a “schism” in the voucher movement with the likes of Howard Fuller finding the proposed reforms acceptable, while Susan Mitchell, the Institute for Justice, and other grenade throwers incensed.

The 120-plus private schools, with about 20,000 students, will have to give standardized tests and report the results, employ teachers who have at least bachelor’s degrees and meet the same minimum hours of instruction as public schools, according to the agreement that is part of the state budget proposal endorsed Friday by the Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee.

The upshot is a schism within the ranks of voucher leaders that has, among other things, separated the most prominent voice of the movement, Howard Fuller, from a longtime, influential ally, Susan Mitchell, president of the organization School Choice Wisconsin.

Fuller described the outcome as “a decent result.”

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