Views on Vouchers

Published January 1, 2000

It’s not a matter of public vs. private schools, it’s a matter of better schools.

John Walton, co-founder of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, and Reginald Weaver, vice president of the National Education Association, at least agreed on that statement at the October 16 Forum for Progress in Milwaukee, sponsored by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and co-sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Public Policy Forum.

But there wasn’t much agreement between Walton and Weaver on how to get better schools. Walton saw public schools improving if parents were given an education vote with school choice. Weaver opposed vouchers and argued that public schools would get better if school districts were given more resources for smaller classes, better-qualified teachers, and higher per-pupil funding for schools in poor neighborhoods.

Another voice in the debate–Michael Joyce, president and CEO of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation–opposed maintaining the existing power structure. Joyce would use vouchers to devolve authority in the system down to individual parents, who would then make a choice among public, private, and religious schools for the education of their child. After all, he pointed out, government is only one of many institutions that communities have for working together.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program involves “a transfer of power and authority away from government to families, specifically to low-income families,” said Joyce.

Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell also argued for a change in the way public education funds are distributed, from funding the district to funding each individual child. In Ohio, this “child-centered funding” would mean that all children would receive an opportunity grant of $4,300 to use for tuition at the school of their choice. He viewed vouchers as a twenty-first century liberation movement.

“I want an America where President Clinton and Vice President Gore are not the only people living in public housing who can send their children to the school of their choice,” he declared.