Vouchers are no “golden ticket”

There's always a catch to every golden ticket

There’s always a catch to every golden ticket

Its “National School Choice Week” the press release reads, and they loaded up busses from Southland Mall in Whitehaven this morning to take people to Nashville in support of the School Voucher bill supported by Brian Kelsey and John DeBerry…and not supported by Gov. Haslam.

Last year when Kelsey and Haslam butted heads on the voucher bill, it died in the last days of session. This year its anybody’s guess.

Voucher bills, and the people that introduce them have been getting some big time financial support over the past few years thanks to the big time money that has been seeking to shepherd the legislation through all 50 state houses.

Groups like The American Federation for Children, funded by the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, and the DeVos family of Amway, have been literally pouring money into “independent” groups like AFC, and others…not to mention the campaign coffers of politicians to get their favored education reform passed.

It would be easy to point you to an an angry screed about the “dark money” that’s funding these efforts.

I could point you to articles about the ugly truth of school choice.

I could have sent you to a photo of a llama in either one of those links and you’d probably be none the wiser.

Most folks, either for or against school voucher plans aren’t really interested in that.

They’re interested in their kids succeeding and they’ve been told “school choice” or vouchers are the way to make that happen.

Unfortunately, there are no sure things in life, and vouchers are just another example of that.

There’s plenty of evidence that shows vouchers don’t work and aren’t any more efficient at delivering educational outcomes than anything else.

The problem is, the real problem is much bigger than the school your kids go to.

Vouchers are a solution avoiding a larger problem

Voucher supporter, and President of the Memphis Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Rev. Dwight Montgommery says,

Children of lesser means are being discriminated against and forced “to attend schools that are not adequate to serve their learning needs,” said Montgomery. “This is as unacceptable today as it was 59 years ago in 1955.”

There’s no denying he’s right about this. Poor children have largely been left behind, but education is only one aspect of that reality. Yesterday I wrote about the opportunity gap in the south. Poor children, and their families, have been repeatedly failed by society. They’ve been left behind, derided for their circumstances, and written off by more people than I could name.

Unfortunately, vouchers only compound this problem for the reasons I laid out here.

There’s no question in my mind that we, as a society, need to do more to tackle the opportunity gap head on.

There’s no question we need to do better by poor kids in the US, and a lot of that means pouring more into public education.

But rather than do that, we’ve sought stop-gap measures that have the effect of actually de-funding public education, all while blaming teachers for not getting more done with less.

While I have no doubt that voucher supporters like Rev. Montgommery have the best intentions, the truth is, educators have done as much with less as they can.

If we really want to make education better in Tennessee, we need to start giving our children more opportunities to get ahead (Pre-K, after school and summer programs, parental involvement programs) and our educators more tools to make a difference. That means spending more in a state that’s one of the most stingy with its education dollar in the United States. We have to do all this while working in earnest to help the parents of these kids get to a place where they’re not struggling to survive.

But none of that is on the table this week. Just golden tickets, and an empty promise of “success”.

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