Public School Apologists Slam Voucher Advocates

Published November 1, 2003

A report from the anti-voucher organization People for the American Way (PFAW) claims supporters of school vouchers have an underlying agenda of privatizing U.S. K-12 education.

Yet this view is not shared either by the voucher-supporting organizations and individuals named in the report–who are labeled “a right-wing coalition”–or by the many left-of-center voucher supporters whose names are notably omitted from the report. In addition, one of the major privatization advocacy groups cited in the report is, like PFAW, opposed to vouchers.

In the July 2003 report from the PFAW Foundation, The Voucher Veneer: The Deeper Agenda to Privatize Public Education, the evidence for an underlying agenda consists of selected quotations, together with lists of individuals and organizations, suggesting guilt by association. The report, authored by PFAW President Ralph Neas, makes no serious attempt to prove an active association of this diverse group, or that those listed share anything beyond support for school vouchers as a reform strategy. While some favor privatizing public education, many included in the list do not share that view.

In fact, not all of the groups listed support vouchers, either. The “ultraconservative” organization the PFAW report features as an ardent advocate of privatization–the Alliance for the Separation of School and State–is in fact an ardent opponent of school vouchers, though for very different reasons than PFAW.

PFAW refers to the political views of voucher supporters as “far right” and “right wing.” While many on the list would protest that label, the prominent voucher supporters PFAW left out of its report would protest even more vehemently.

For example, reference is made to Milwaukee and Cleveland, where voucher programs exist. Wisconsin State Representative Polly Williams is listed as a “former Milwaukee voucher advocate” even though she still is a voucher advocate. PFAW also neglects to mention that voucher advocates in Milwaukee include Mayor John Norquist and former school board member John Gardner. Also unmentioned are Cleveland voucher advocates Councilwoman Fannie Lewis, Mayor Michael White, and State Senator Patrick Sweeney, who represents Cleveland. The inclusion of these liberal Democrats–some quite far to the left–would have made PFAW’s claim of a “right-wing” movement insupportable.

To these voucher supporters from the liberal Democrat side could now be added Washington, DC’s Mayor Anthony Williams, DC School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, and Education Committee Chairman Kevin Chavous.

Among voucher supporters is the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), founded by Howard Fuller, a former Milwaukee public school superintendent. PFAW refers to BAEO as “one of the Trojan horses providing cover for the deeper agenda of privatization” of organizations such as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, implying BAEO leaders and members can’t think for themselves.

BAEO members include Pennsylvania State Representative Dwight Evans, who is the Democratic chairman of the state House Education Committee, and Floyd Flake, former Democratic Congressman from New York City. PFAW does not list these individuals as voucher supporters. To do so would have contradicted the “Far Right” label.

One notable feature of PFAW’s list is that the organizations on it are ones that have been attacked by the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teacher union. Indeed, PFAW is closely allied with the NEA and others in opposition to school vouchers. At the NEA’s national conference a few years ago, the NEA presented an award to PFAW’s founder.

One final piece of information the PFAW report does not mention is a survey the NEA itself sponsored in 2001, which found 63 percent of Americans favored tuition vouchers they could use to send their child to any public, private, or charter school. Support was even greater among low-income and minority parents, and was highest, 75 percent, among black parents under the age of 35.

David W. Kirkpatrick is a senior education fellow with the U.S. Freedom Foundation. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

The July 2003 study by Ralph G. Neas, The Voucher Veneer: The Deeper Agenda to Privatize Public Education, is available online at the Web site of People for the American Way at