Editor’s note: Parental choice supporters released this collaborative statement today, calling on ed reformers to fully embrace vouchers, tax credit scholarships and other publicly funded private options as part of a three-sector approach to providing more high-quality learning options for low-income children. A number of prominent names in ed reform and parental choice circles have already signed on (see the list of original signers here). To add your name in support, go here.
For 50 years, America has struggled to provide low-income students, especially those in inner cities, with high-quality schools. The consequence has been devastating: Generational poverty, disenfranchised neighborhoods, and millions of boys and girls robbed of the American Dream.
But we have not been asleep at the switch. Over this half-century, some of our sharpest minds, strongest backs, and deepest pockets have attempted to solve the problem. Decades of effort have been poured into improving district-run schools. Two decades ago work on a parallel track was launched through the passage of a tax supported voucher program in Wisconsin and the option to create charter schools in Minnesota. The voucher program provided limited access for low-income parents to send their children to private schools, and the charter school legislation provided for the possibility of the development of new public schools with increased autonomy and accountability.
In spite of all of our best efforts, gains in district schools have been modest. Although chartering has produced many outstanding schools, numerous barriers have impeded the creation of a sufficient number of high-quality charter seats. Even with the expanded choice to the private sector, they also have produced modest results. So despite the expenditure of enormous personal and financial resources, it is still sadly true today that far too few needy boys and girls have access to great schools.
Those interested in improving the fortunes of these students should share a mindset: We must double down on our efforts to grow the number of high-quality schools available to low-income children. When so many obstacles stand between our young people and a lifetime of success, we simply cannot and must not support only one of the approaches that are available to us.
We strongly support a “three-sector” approach to reform and improvement.
We must push for transformational changes within traditional districts while working to strengthen the other two options.
There is controversy and opposition to each of the strategies, but, those involving the private sector create the most angst; particularly those that involved publicly supported programs like vouchers and tax credits. Unfortunately, some of this resistance has come from within our own ranks—those supporting other efforts to improve the educational opportunities available to disadvantaged students.
We believe it is time for members of the reform community to reconsider their opposition to these programs and fully embrace the three-sector approach. Many things have changed since Milwaukee’s voucher program initiated this movement 20 years ago—when many people took hardened positions on this issue. Continue Reading →