Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Voucher Money: Come and Get It

The Journal Sentinel continues its pro-voucher campaign this morning, informing us that "interest remains significant". How do they know? Because more voucher vultures are lining up to feed at the trough.

The story by pro-voucher beat reporter Alan Borsuk on the front page of the Metro section celebrates the fact that 34 individuals or groups (including some who, remarkably, have been kicked out of the program before) have applied to create "schools" that would receive voucher money, therefore adding to the burden of city of Milwaukee taxpayers. "But the 34 new applicants, combined with the 120 schools applying to continue in the largest voucher program in the United States, indicate that interest in opening - and, most likely, enrolling in - the private schools remains significant," writes Borsuk. Well, what's the news here? The state is handing out checks with low application standards and little oversight to anyone willing to claim to be educating kids in vacant warehouses. Since when doesn't that draw interest by those trying to make an easy buck?

When the right-wing agenda's pet project voucher scheme was enacted by always-helpful Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1990, the discussion was primarily focused on the public money that would go to religious schools. It was a surprise, then, to find that the program also enabled "schools" that never existed to spring up just for the purpose of taking voucher money. This led to several public embarassments - such as that surrounding Alex's Academics of Excellence, a joke of a pretend-school, and the Mandela School, which besmerched the memory of the great South African leader by leasing a Mercedes for its CEO - and, I'm sure, many private nightmares that never made it to the public eye. It's not like the J-S is going to help expose the travesties of its pet program. They've been making excuses and looking the other way from problems in the program for so long, they have a permanent case of whiplash.

None of the 34 new "schools" applying to get in on the voucher money scam exist now and none that are not approved will exist next year. This is not the "free education market" voucher proponents brag about - it's publicly-funded corporate socialism, like the defense industry. There is little difference between the legendary $6,000 toilets of the defense industry and the $6,000-per-child being thrown at the voucher "schools". Most of that good public money is still going right down the same drain.


Anonymous said...

Your arguments against vouchers might make sense if the MPS system wasn't such an abject failure.

Mike Plaisted said...

Your "arguments" against MPS might make sense if you supported the public school system in the first place. So, if the voucher schools are no better than MPS, what does that make them? More expensive abject failures?

Anonymous said...


How many times will you cite Alex's and Mandella? We already know those people were crooks and should have been prosecuted and banned from any further involvement with government funds--and in some cases they were. But lets be honest about the fact that MPS is a largely a failure and more so when it comes to the most needy students--the non-white, non middle class. Since the facts of the failure are obvious to all, it seems natural that those who care at all for children will seek any solution, any alternative. For some this is a voucher school, for others a virtual school or whatever. If you see the role of government to be to secure for the people a quality education that provided some hope for the future--and I'm sure you do--then how can you oppose the premise of the voucher program? If not voucher schools, which provide the only chance for some parents to send students to an alternative to failure, then what is the solution? Government's role should be to secure choices, real choices.

Your opposition to the voucher program seems to be predicated on two grounds. First you seem to object that someone might make a profit educating students. Why shouldn't they? As a teacher I can tell you that education is hardly a non-profit adventure. Consider the text book industry or the industrial-testing complex. The basic premise of our economy is to reward excellence with profit because profit motivates continued excellence. Schools are not sacred.

Your second objection seems to be predicated on the notion that these schools fail to produce what they promise. I'd agree to some degree of increased oversight and tightening the approval process, but over-regulation is part of what has strangled the current public school system. A much more simple solution is to promote continued testing and educate parents about the real academic results of a school before they enroll their student.

If we wish to change the failing nature of education in Milwaukee we must not simply do what we have always done. WEAC, the real special interest pulling the strings, claims every child deserves a great school, but we see far too few of them. You whine on about failures in the voucher program but ignore the long and mighty numbers of children set up for failure by MPS. See the forest!

I'm sure you'll continue to rant about religious brainwashing or other false arguments, but if you were genuine on this issue you'd point me to the post where you criticized waste at a public school or took issue with your WEAC thought masters. I suspect like so many of the posts here at Proofrock Writes this is just more of your typical right-bashing. At least some are trying to do something. Please spare us the phony hand-wringing because you don't give a damn about kids or education from what I can see.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait for my children to go to the "Princess Academy" that is being proposed as a voucher school. Why have the public schools not provided me this option before. I'm all in favor of using public money to help make my sons into little princesses. I'm excited that the legislative supporters of choice have opened their minds to this alternative teaching in Milwaukee schools!

Mike Plaisted said...

Wow, interesting assumptions there, Patrick. Did I ever mention that my major in undergrad was Elementary Ed, that I wanted to teach 3rd grade in the inner-city and save the world; that I taught as a substitute at MPS for a year before I went to law school? Some of my favorite people in the world are teachers and some of my other favorite people in the world are kids, including my own. As a criminal defense attorney, I am intimately involved with the failures of society, of which public schools are but a small part, if at all. More often than not, the public schools are the best things in the lives of the underclass. So spare me the "I don't give a damn" ad hominem attacks. You don't know anything about me and what you think you know is wrong.

The voucher program is a right-wing fantasy to destroy public schools. Most of the people driving the voucher scam couldn't care less about poor people, much less children. They are using the poor children (and parents) of Milwaukee as pawns in a vicious game. Parents who decide to take their kids to a voucher "school" usually do so because it is closer to their house. Those who do it for more aestetic reasons (usually religious) get burned by scam artists that have lousy facilities, unqualified "teachers" and inadequate resources. Profit for excellence? Hah. Show me one "excellent" voucher "school". There aren't any.

It's a joke, and not a funny one. The best teachers do what all professionals do -- they follow the money. All across MPS, small miracles happen everyday. Kids come in, when they do, often with little sleep, no breakfast, and with the pain and heartache of a hard life you will never understand. The teachers do what they can with incredible skill and dedication, and then go home to listen to chumps like you diminish their effort and skills. Then they do back the next day and do it again.

Yeah, Patrick, I know. You said before you were a teacher and you are as wrong now as you were then. If you are a public school teacher, I've never seen so much self-righteous self-loathing in my life. The voucher vultures say "MPS has failed so anything goes." I say, shut up and try to fix the public schools first, if you are so smart. But that's the last thing they want.

WEAC isn't the problem and the last thing there is in public schools is "waste" (waste -- yeah right. That must be why my teacher friends spend hundreds of their own dollars every year on supplies). The public schools are a whipping boy for the other ills of society -- something that can't possibly have the impact they could have without changes in their students lives, the remedy for which will never be supported by the right-wing that wants to destroy the schools that are the only positive thing in too many lives.

Other Side said...

The voucher program is a right-wing fantasy to destroy public schools. Most of the people driving the voucher scam couldn't care less about poor people, much less children.

Absolutely right on, Mike. Well said.

Anonymous said...

When will these school "reformers" show the same level of concern for kids and families who CHOOSE to stay in MPS - like my kids, who are in great MPS schools but who for years have been subjected to cutback after cutback after cutback in programs, staffing etc while money is poured into voucher programs?

or is that the point. To make MPS conditions so dire that parents have no choice but to depending on vouchers.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what voucher proponents might think of this sort of development in the Twin Cities:
But TIZA is a charter or independent public school. As a public school, supported by taxpayer funds, it is supposed neither to endorse nor encourage Islam. Yet the school's Islamic character is seemingly overwhelming and undeniable. ...

What is an opponent of the phenomenon represented by TIZA to do? If TIZA's arrangement passes muster with state authorities, an opponent is left with two options. One must either await judicial intervention at the behest of some party with standing to bring a lawsuit raising the obvious First Amendment issues, or one must work for the demise of charter schools.

I'm the farthest thing from an expert in this area, but I'd guess that the 1st A arguments no longer hold much water. That leaves the political arguments, of course. Breaching the church-state wall is one thing; perhaps voucher supporters will feel differently about the mosque-state wall.

Bill Tyroler

Anonymous said...

Clearly reasoned discussion isn't your strong suit Mike; I can see you'd much rather throw bombs. Here's hoping your children develop really good critical thinking skills and are able to wipe away some of the baseless rhetoric that I'm sure you're indoctrinating them with. My suspicion, however, is that those critical thinking skills will have to come from somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Pius, Messmer, St Joan Antida--these are a few of the better voucher schools. Hardly fly-by-night organizations, these schools have a proven track record with students from terrbile backgrounds. I'm sure you'll note that Messmer and St Joan Antida serve predominately minority populations in heir "brainwashing" facilities. All three of these schools have track records similar to or better than King and Riverside, the terrific MPS schools.

Should we do more to prevent "scam artists" from running voucher schools? Absolutely. One mistake with the program was opening it to people without proven track records in curriculum, administration, and ethics. Lets also be honest about the fact that because MPS still receives a cut for each student who goes voucher, the dirty secret is that they benefit financially from the system too, and claims that voucher schools syphon money from MPS are BS. All one has to do is compare per-student spending from district to district to see how vapid that claim is.

So you got an undergrad in elementary ed. and have some teacher friends. I suppose you do know what you are talking about. As for your teacher friends that spend "hundreds" on supplies...my guess is they are pulling your leg and complaining like all people do after work. A very large portion of my friends are teachers, a few are dedicated, a few stink, but none of them spends much from their own pocket from school supplies. Most of them agree they are fairly paid for what they do. Maybe they are less materialistic than others.

You argue--emotionally, of course--that we should fix MPS first. That's BS. How many times would you send your child to a failing hospital? Why should another generation of kids be wasted there when their parents have the gumption to seek an alternative? You're right when you mention the problems of society, though. Poverty, poor parenting, gangs, drugs, pregnancy all cripple a student's chances in live as they cripple the schools meant to serve them. I have more first hand experience with this than you, I'm sure. But lets not close the door to non-traditional systems that could serve these students better.

And if WEAC is interesting in saving these kids and educating them, why are they always the first on the battlements to smash any alternative? I'm sure you noted with glee news of the impending permanant caps on public virtual schools--despite the way all cell groups respond to digital progressive lessons. What heroes!

You claim I am both "self-righteous" and "self-loathing" at the same time; is that even possible? Perhaps I need to pause for more self reflection inspired by a one-year sub turned attorney. I'm waiting, by the way, for you to point me to the post that demonstrated your concern over the problems in education which shines a negative light on school waste or WEAC. Sadly, for you this is just another chance to attack the right and prop up the WEAC monopoly.

Other Side said...

I have first-hand knowledge that my daughter's first grade teacher has spent her own money to purchase supplies and snacks for kids whose parents either forgot or couldn't afford them.

Your friends are probably lousy teachers, Patrick.

Mike is exactly right about the priorities of the right. It has nothing to do with helping children ... it has everything to do with demolishing public education. It's just like the phony voter ID schtick, and the powers behind the money and the schemes have got people like you, Patrick, eating from their hands.

Bah bah.

Mike Plaisted said...


Why no post about waste in public schools? I am unaware of any. They need more money, not less. Infrastructure, heat, supplies, salaries...not much wiggle room, except in the richest districts. What waste are you talking about?

Why not post negative on WEAC? Why would I? I was a staff member for the (much smaller) Wisconsin Federation of Teachers (now AFT/Wisconsin) in the 1990's and spent some time in joint lobbying and other efforts with WEAC. WEAC members couldn't hope for better representation, not only in terms of the protection of their members from the predatory anti-public school efforts of the national right-wing, but also in facilitating the members' interest in better schools. It is a first class organization all the way. No large organization is perfect, but the leadership has always had their hearts in the right place. I have nothing negative to say about WEAC because I agree with their goals and their efforts. I think people who try to demonize them are trying to destroy the most effective advocate for better public schools and simply jealous of their success.

I didn't mean the Catholic schools when I asked you to name a decent voucher "school". Have the Catholic schools sold out so much that voucher schools is all they are? I guess that explains the pathetic Tommy Thompson memorial at Messmer. Whatever happened to the thing about false gods? You still can't name a decent "school" of those that sprang up just to take voucher money. Because, again, there isn't any.

Yeah, my sister and one of my best friends are lying to me about buying supplies that are not provided by the school. That's why go with Office Depot with her when she makes her supply runs several times a year.

What exactly is wrong with MPS, Patrick? At the end of the day, it all comes down to teachers and students in a classroom behind closed doors. We should get them the resources they need to do the job and, except for reasonable accountability and support, get out of the way. The best thing we can do is keep class size down. All the money being thrown out the window at vouchers should go into the SAGE program.

I'm sick of you undermining your own profession, Patrick. Put your money where your mouth is and go work for the "entraprenuer" who gave us Alex's Academics of Excellence -- he's still raking in the voucher dough. Sure, you'll only get paid $20K (if that) and no benefits, but you can dive head first into your supposedly grand experiment. You'll discover what a lie and a sham it is, but that's OK. WEAC will be there to help protect your rights when you try to come crawling back.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to all that speak truth to power we're all supposed to love so much? We should only speak truth when the power is on the right?

Mike, perhaps you would fare better is you reacted to actual arguments rather than invent comments and then react to them. What have I said that "undermines" my profession? My comments are balanced and reasonsed. I made concessions where they were fair. I suggested the need to more oversite of voucher programs and advocated that those who abuse the system be punished harshly. Sure, I'm skeptical that many teachers spend much of their own money on supplies, but I'm not so vain as to think that teachers are the only professionals who give of their own above and beyond the call of duty. How does any of this undermine the profession?

Yet here you come again with the Alex's Academic of excellence crap. Who couldn't tell merely by the name that this was foolish garbage? Who chartered them? What fool approved their application to be a part of the program? Why don't we know the names of those people--they are the ones undermining the profession, not me.

These are the problems with MPS: The system is too large to respond quickly to the needs of the system. Top-down management prevents innovation. Over regulation and overly protective laws prevent teachers and administration from maintaining discipline effectively. The worst kids are shifted throughout the system, polluting one school after the next. Endless dollars and time are spent waging this war--so how can administrators focus on effective strategies? There are too many adiministrtors who work in the system simply because they failed as teachers--they don't know good teaching from bad. Bad teachers are too often retained because it is too difficult to fire them--and this at the expense of rewarding good teachers (like your sister, for example) from getting higher compensation. Shall I go on?

Let me be clear: The teachers at MPS are fine. I'm sure they are equally dedicated and proficient to those in any other district--West Allis, Mequon, Brookfield, all of them. But the system they work in works against them. The age of overbloated administrative systems has to end. Schools like SJA are governed by small boards largely made of parents, not politicians. Their vested interest is in their sons and daughters, not re-election. Ask your sister how many hoops she'd have to jump through to transmit her great idea throughout the system? Ask her how many hoops she'd have to jump through to get a better textbook (assuming it was an adoption year)?

WEAC does do a great job fighting for the rights of their members. This is their core function, and it is what they do well. When any issue is in contrast with this core goal--they oppose it. What was their big problem with virtual schools? Not enough union teachers. What's the problem with voucher school? Not enough union teachers. Ask your sister how many times her union dues have gone up in the last five years? She'll say five. Has her union ever come to her saying"hey, times are tough and you spend all that money on school supplies--so we'll lower the dues to make it easier for you." Never. Remember last year during the budget battle--the republicans offered a compromise that gave Doyle every dollar he asked for to fund education...if WEAC was about securing the funds for the kids, why didn't they endorse that deal instead of risking a worse outcome? Did you read their literature which refured to the "right wing" representatives while they claim to be non-partisan? Shall I go on?

See Mike, if you want to convince me you'll have to react to the ideas I present; calm down and stop with the personal attacks. You always say reason is on your side. Why are the things I say unreasonable? Education is changing. You can't cling to the past forever.