Friday, May 02, 2003

The "voucher wars" come to Washington

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams now backs the Bush administration's plan to introduce limited "vouchers" into the District's government school system. The proposal would establish a pilot program in D.C. permitting parents to obtain vouchers for their choice of public or private school. The mayor's endorsement, however, does not represent a united view. Many D.C. officials prefer to keep the city's children as hostages of the teacher cartel:

"Public tax dollars should not go to sending children to private institutions that do not endure the same amount of scrutiny regarding their education measures as the [public] school system," D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said in a written statement.

Fenty's statement ignores reality. D.C. schools have the highest per-pupil spending rate in the nation, yet performance is among the worst. Furthermore, the amount of "scrutiny" given the government schools is suspect. Accountability has never been a first principle of D.C. govermnent officials, who spend more time whining about their lack of tax revenue than they do lowering the burdens on businesses and economic development.

Not surprisingly, the teacher cartel (i.e. unions) are livid about even the thought of vouchers:

"It is disingenuous at best and duplicitous at worst to siphon money from the District's public schools to finance vouchers for private school education when there is already a proposal to cut $100 million from the city's school budget," said Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the parent organization of the Washington Teachers Union.

"If voucher advocates really want to help students and strengthen D.C. schools, they should stand with the citizens and teachers of Washington, D.C., who oppose private school vouchers and support the use of effective educational programs and strategies," Miss Feldman said in a statement.

Feldman has no credibility to make her arguments. For one thing, the AFT has actively opposed numerous measures that would put the interests of students ahead of the union. Consider merit pay. It's a simple proposition—pay the better teachers more money without regard to seniority. This principle is applied in almost every business in America, yet its antithetical to government school administration, because the AFT will only support seniority-based pay systems. But if we're supposed to put the students first, shouldn't we ensure that only the best teachers are out there?

And who exactly opposes vouchers outside the union? Are we really supposed to believe that any parent—at least any rational parent—would intentionally deny themselves greater choice and control over the child's education?

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