Sunday, February 12, 2017

Lessons from Milwaukee’s voucher program: our “country’s first contemporary voucher initiative and a model for other cities and state programs”

There is an excellent—because informative, incisive and concise—op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times by Barbara Miner, “a Milwaukee-based reporter and the author of Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City (The New Press, 2013). Here is a snippet from her piece, “If you care about our public schools and our democracy, beware of Betsy DeVos and her vouchers:”
[….] “Because they are defined as ‘private,’ voucher schools operate by separate rules, with minimal public oversight or transparency. They can sidestep basic constitutional protections such as freedom of speech. They do not have to provide the same level of second-language or special-education services. They can suspend or expel students without legal due process. They can ignore the state’s requirements for open meetings and records. They can disregard state law prohibiting discrimination against students on grounds of sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or marital or parental status.
Wisconsin has sunk so deep into this unaccountable world that our voucher program not only turns a blind eye toward discrimination in voucher schools, it forces the public to pay for such discrimination.
I attended Catholic schools, and believe that this country’s long-standing defense of religious liberty is a hallmark of our democracy. But the voucher program has distorted this all-important concept of religious freedom. In the guise of governmental noninterference in religious matters, the voucher program allows private schools to use public dollars to proselytize and teach church doctrine that is at odds with public policy — for instance, that women must be submissive to men, that homosexuality is evil, that birth control is a sin, and that creationism is scientifically sound.
Privatizing an essential public function and forcing the public to pay for it, even while removing it from meaningful public oversight, weakens our democracy. And we aren’t talking about insignificant amounts of money. Since 1990, roughly $2 billion in public money has been funneled into private and religious schools in Wisconsin, and the payments keep escalating. This year alone, the tab is some $248 million.” [….] The full article is here.

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