Low blow

Florida’s voucher program gave Adrian Bushell A Chance to Escape a bad neighborhood school, writes columnist John Tierney in the New York Times. Bushell transferred to a Catholic school which accepts his $4,400 voucher as full payment; he’s earning B’s and preparing for college. Today lawyers are trying to persuade the Florida Supreme Court to end the Opportunity Scholarships because they can be used at church-affiliated schools.

How can you claim the moral high ground when you’re denying him a chance to escape to a better private school?

Students who stayed at Edison, the local high school, haven’t lost resources as a result of the vouchers, Tierney writes. In fact, their school has improved.

Well, the public system did lose $4,400, but that’s actually $1,000 less than the cost of educating the average student and there was one pupil fewer to teach.

As enrollment has dropped at Edison, the student-to-teacher ratio has improved to about 22 from about 30. In the past two years, a new principal has revamped the administration and replaced half the teachers in the school. Under the new leadership, the average test score at the school last year rose dramatically – one of the largest increases of any high school in Florida.

Edison’s improvement is not an isolated example, as three separate studies have found in Florida. Test scores have gone up more rapidly at schools facing the threat of vouchers than at other schools. The latest study, by Martin West and Paul Peterson of Harvard, shows that Florida’s program is much more effective than the federal No Child Left Behind program.

NCLB lets students transfer to other public schools. Often nearby alternatives are no better than their neighborhood school. Florida lets kids leave the public system. That threat motivates public school officials to make changes that persuade students to stay put.

In the case being heard today at the Florida Supreme Court, (voucher opponents are) arguing that the program violates Florida’s version of the Blaine amendment, a prohibition on aid to religious schools that was added to many state constitutions in the 19th century thanks to campaigns by nativist politicians against the “Catholic menace.”

It is an amendment with a “shameful pedigree,” as the U.S. Supreme Court has noted. Florida adopted it at an 1885 constitutional convention that also banned interracial marriage and required segregated schools. Whether its wording applies to the Florida voucher program is arguable. But when lawyers are using a law with this tawdry history to go after Adrian’s voucher, they’re nowhere near the high ground.

Church-based schools tend to cost less than secular private schools and are more likely to be located in urban areas accessible to low-income students. In particular, Catholic schools have a fine track record in providing opportunity to inner-city students.

Teachers’ unions are losing the education debate, writes Ryan Sager on TCS, commenting on the Florida case.

What a wonderful win it could be for the Democratic Party: a lawsuit by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers yanking hundreds of low-income students out of successful public and private schools and stuffing them back into the failing public schools from whence they came.

Parents want choices, he writes.

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  1. ragnarok says:

    As Alan Bersin said: “A fundamental question we have to ask about our large school systems is whether they are primarily sources of employment for adults or education for children.”

    I believe that we know the union’s answer to this question. Given that, it’s no surprise that it doesn’t feel any shame at challenging Adrian Bushell’s chance to escape the bad hand he’s been dealt.

    But does the union’s stand mark them as altruistic professionals? As interested in principle? Or as money-grubbers?

  2. Evidently, a brisk response to the threat of extinction warrants the attention of the media:

    Test scores have gone up more rapidly at schools facing the threat of vouchers than at other schools.

    Who’da thunk?

    Now, how does one apply this subtle, and devilishly inobvious, insight to the public education system at large?