Two School Chiefs Talk about Vouchers

Published January 1, 2000

While dismissing vouchers as “a diversion” and “a proxy for real investment,” New York Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew admitted to a Milwaukee audience that “you’re causing me pure hell in New York.”

Addressing several hundred university faculty members at the annual African-Americans in Education Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in October, Crew said, “I oftentimes want to go to the map and cut out Milwaukee.”

Crew’s attack on vouchers–in which he criticized the parental choice program for serving only a tenth of the students in Milwaukee–received a standing ovation, according to New York Post reporter Maria Alvarez.

While Crew was railing against vouchers in Milwaukee, Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul G. Vallas was telling WGN Radio’s Access 720 host Milton Rosenberg about what happened when he and Crew had appeared together on a panel at the American Federation of Teachers Convention in Washington, DC.

Crew was asked, “If the Legislature passed vouchers for New York, will you resign?” He said “Yes.” Vallas was asked the same question about Chicago. “Absolutely not,” he responded.

“Why should I resign over the voucher issue? It’s not my issue,” explained Vallas. “If the legislature wants to expand options for poor children in the City of Chicago through targeted tax credit refunds, or through a voucher system, or through some private entity like the Walton scholarships . . . that’s fine with me, that’s not my issue. My focus is on public education. There needs to be more competition.”

When Rosenberg asked if vouchers were a good idea, Vallas responded that if he had been selected as superintendent of parochial or private schools, then he’d likely be arguing for vouchers. However, since he had been selected to run public schools, his focus was public schools. But that didn’t mean he was opposed to vouchers.

“My position on vouchers is this: I don’t oppose them,” said Vallas. “If the legislature wanted to enact a voucher system for Chicago tomorrow, that would be fine. You wouldn’t see me running around, scurrying around Springfield trying to get legislators to defeat it.”

The Chicago schools chief made a similar point when asked about the attitude of Mayor Richard M. Daley towards vouchers: “He’s going to focus on public schools and you’re not going to see us lobbying to try to kill parochial or private school initiatives,” said Vallas.