Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The next step for school choice

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:06 PM |  

The following is an OP-ED piece was submitted by Lee McGrath to both the Minneapolis and St. Paul Opinion Pages. Neither paper chose to print it. I think that's unfortunate, because it robs the public of the opportunity to see that school choice has more support than simply the radical ranting of some refugee from a fish sticks factory.

I'm posting it here because I think it provides a perspective on vouchers and tax credits that hasn't been as concisely defined as Lee does it. He supplies examples that illustrate the state is already using "public" funds to support private education and education at religious schools. Vouchers and tax credits are not radical ideas. Lee's point is well taken -- Why so resistant to extending a concept that is working?

I consider Lee a good friend, whom I met through our mutual support for school choice. Lee is am an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that nationally defends school choice programs. He also serves on the board of the Partnership for Choice in Education in St. Paul.

by Lee McGrath

In "Is it about the system or the kids?"
(Dec. 22) Craig Westover writes that those advancing school choice are committed to the concept of public education and not to any specific method of delivering knowledge and skills.

He's right. Moreover, supporters of public education regardless of the delivery method know that the solution to problems faced by students at Maxfield Elementary School is for Governor Pawlenty and Minnesota's legislature to grant their parents more educational choices.

In K-12 education, Minnesotans support and pay for open enrollment, charter schools, tax credits/deductions, interdistrict busing, and Post-Secondary Education Options for senior high students to attend public, private and religious colleges. Minnesotans also support and pay for federally guaranteed loans and grants to students to attend public and private colleges including St. Thomas, St. Olaf, St. Johns, St. Kate's and others. These are all school choice programs.

Minnesotans support school choice because they know that competition makes everything better. This is true in sports, industry, and among columnists. It is also true in education. The U.S. has the best colleges and universities in the world because students have near endless choices after high school. The Twin Cities' suburban K-12 public schools are among the best in the nation because well-to-do parents hold over the heads of school officials the threat of transferring their children to private schools if the public schools fail to educate them.

What can be done for struggling students in K-12 public schools, such as Maxfield, in Minneapolis and St. Paul?

The short answer is more of what Minnesota is already doing. In other words – more school choice.

Vouchers and tuition tax credits are the next step for Minnesota. They are not radical. They are merely an increase in the array of choices listed above. They give parents the financial means to select the best school for their children regardless of its public/private/religious status.

And vouchers and tax credits are tested and proven to improve education. Milwaukee, Cleveland, the District of Columbia, Florida, Maine and Vermont have voucher programs, and Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, and Pennsylvania allow taxpayers to receive a credit for education expenses or contributions to organizations that provide scholarships.

Some politicians, however, resist competition in inner-city K-12 schools. When faced with a learning gap of 3-4 years between black and white students in Minnesota, nearly the highest in the nation, they advocate continuing to do the same thing year after year with more money added annually. Only in K-12 education do political progressives so completely and unquestioningly defend the status quo.

DFLers, like Rudy Perpich, and Republicans, like Arne Carlson, have made Minnesota a national leader in parental choice in education. In the upcoming legislative session, there remains only a small step for the legislature and the governor to provide vouchers and tuition tax credits in K-12 education.

With passage of such legislation, all students will have an equal opportunity to a quality education. When signed into law, more parental choice will also stimulate traditional public schools, such as Maxfield Elementary School, to improve their educational offerings, facilities and supply of books.

Minnesota is so close to improving the quality of education for all children, it is time to enhance opportunities for all children by giving parents the power to select the best schools for their children. Parents are committed to their children's education regardless of the delivery method.