As Hard to Kill as a Cow Killer Ant

As Hard to Kill as a Cow Killer Ant - March 13, 2016

State Representative David Perryman

My parents taught me at an early age that two wrongs don’t make a right. Neither do three or four or five. I’m not one to believe in black helicopters and conspiracy theories, but the evidence that there is a plan to torch public education has been piling up for several years.

Milwaukee adopted the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the nation’s first voucher program in 1990, allowing public tax dollars to be used to subsidize secular private schools. Eight years later, the program was expanded to allow those tax dollars to be used in private schools run by churches and synagogues.

So with more than 25 years of data, one would think that voucher proponents would have a plethora of evidence upon which to base stories of success. They haven’t for one very important reason. There has been no improvement in educational outcomes of students and Milwaukee’s voucher program failed to meet the goals that it claimed would benefit the state.

According to a February 2013 research brief prepared by the Public Policy Forum, the 24,941 Milwaukee students attending taxpayer subsidized private schools had much in common with the 79,130 Milwaukee students attending public schools, including student performance. In many cases, the public school students performed better than the whiter, wealthier private school students.

Frustratingly, the voucher programs were not required to report statistics until 2010-11 and little was known about performance. Now that voucher schools are required to report, their students tend to be slightly below the proficiency rates of the students in the Milwaukee Public Schools.

According to a report by Margie Pitroff of Milwaukee Public Radio, vouchers had taken $1.7 Billion from the Milwaukee Public Schools between 1990 and 2014 and continue to do so at a rate exceeding $150 Million per year. All the while, students in the public schools have become increasingly poor, more in need of special education programs and art, music and physical education has been cut and the teacher mentoring program has been scaled back.

So, except for a financial rescue of parochial schools, about the only benefit that Milwaukee’s voucher program can claim is that it has single handedly generated dozens of research grants and kept that many professors and graduate assistants off the soup line.

Despite the inability of charter schools, voucher programs and school choice to improve educational outcomes, groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); The Heartland Institute; The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) and the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC) continue in their endeavors to direct money and resources away from public schools.

These groups and their predecessors have attempted for years to vilify teachers and public schools. Remember in the mid 1990’s when Governor Keating referred to teachers as “slugs” and “finger painters” and in 2000 when he said “homicide” was the manner in which to handle the state teacher’s union? The governor later apologized for the 2000 remark, but not the name calling.

Through all that, teachers continued to sacrifice for the benefit of children. The more difficult the task, the harder teachers worked. The more voucher proponents attempted to undermine public schools and public school teachers, the more determined teachers were to have their students succeed.

It is no surprise that in 2015 HB 1749 was introduced by an ALEC member to strike at teachers and the protections they had through the professional organizations to which they belonged. That same year, HB 1696 and SB 782 were introduced by ALEC members and supported by OPSRC and others to allow the State Department of Education to place charter schools in any school district statewide, even over the objection of the locally elected school board.

Likewise, this year, the House Speaker and ALEC members introduced HB 3156 and SB 1187 to deregulate public school districts and SB 609 and HB 2949 to allow Vouchers to be used to transfer public tax dollars to private and religious schools.

Those Bills coupled with the attempt by the State Department of Education to adopt new administrative rules to allow the State Board to bypass local school districts and force the consolidation of school districts when a school is financially unable to keep the school open for the entire year are setting public schools up to fail.

Questions and comments are welcome. David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.