A report recently released by the Maryland Public Policy Institute endorses and explains school vouchers in a way designed especially to provide guidance for policymakers.
“Top Five Myths of School Vouchers and Why They Should Not Impede Education Reform in Maryland” was released September 12, 2005. Author Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., an adjunct fellow of the Maryland Public Policy Institute and senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, said state policymakers are the intended audience.
Johnson’s report contends Maryland has a broken education system, citing the recent decision by the state’s Board of Education to take over the failing Baltimore City Schools as well as dismal scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for Maryland’s fourth- and eighth-grade public school students.
Political Climate ‘Not Ready’
In the report, Johnson tackles five commonly held reasons for opposing vouchers (see “Top Five Myths About School Vouchers,” this page), including the claims that vouchers take money from the public school system, are not accountable for public funds, and draw gifted students away from the public schools.
Johnson wrote the report with Maryland’s legislators in mind. Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who helped pass the state’s first charter school law before gaining his current office nearly three years ago, currently does not support school vouchers. His lieutenant governor agrees with that position. In September 2004, the Baltimore Sun quoted Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steel as saying vouchers “[are] not something I’m pushing or the governor is pushing. Maryland is not ready.”
However, Johnson said Ehrlich might not actually oppose school choice but is finding the political climate too harsh for a reform some consider extreme.
“The governor has opposition ‘at this time,’ which to me is code for ‘he doesn’t want to fight the battle right now,'” Johnson said. “Maryland is a heavily left-leaning state, and it will take some time before politicians feel sufficiently comfortable discussing vouchers.”
Policy Groups Support Vouchers
While parent groups have advocated successfully for school choice programs in places like nearby Washington, DC over the past few years, Johnson noted support in Maryland is not currently coming from the grassroots.
“The Maryland Public Policy Institute is certainly pushing vouchers,” Johnson said. “Certain legislators, such as state Delegate Joseph Boeteler [a Baltimore County Republican], are interested in other forms of school choice, such as tax credits. Generally, though, MPPI is the only group pushing vouchers at this time in the state.”
One group definitely opposed to vouchers is the Maryland State Teachers Association. According to its Web site, “We have long held that every available tax dollar provided by Marylanders ought to go to meet the needs of the public schools. There are plenty of unmet needs in our public schools and our state ought not to be giving money to people to spend on private schools.”
Johnson counters this claim directly in Myth #1 (see sidebar), noting research shows the city of Baltimore, for example, could save between $1 million and $6 million annually by adopting a voucher plan.
Private Schools Ready
Although vouchers might be a few years away in Maryland, Johnson is confident organizations such as the Archdiocese of Baltimore would be amenable to accommodating students seeking a better education.
“I have no doubt that private schools would grow to accommodate the demand,” Johnson said. “Recall that the Archdiocese of Washington Schools was a strong force in the DC voucher debate, promising to open up space for students. I am certain that would happen again with a statewide voucher program in Maryland.”
Kate McGreevy ([email protected]) is a freelance education writer living in New Mexico. She formerly worked with the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy in Washington, DC.
For more information …
The full text of “Top Five Myths of School Vouchers and Why They Should Not Impede Education Reform in Maryland” is available online at http://www.mdpolicy.org/research/education/policyreport2005-3.pdf.
To learn more about the Maryland State Teachers Association, visit http://www.mstanea.org.