Monday, October 22, 2012

"Disastrous Educational Agenda"? Voucher Lessons from Milwaukee

One way I collect content for my blog is through Google Alerts for the policy issues that affect people with disabilities. Alerts for Medicaid, Medicare, and health care reform would overwhelm my inbox, and I want to be specifically focused on disabilities -- so I search for the candidates names connected with terms like special education, disability, and disabilities. I've been noticing a distinct trend that my Google Alerts are increasingly critical of the Romney-Ryan agenda in terms of their impact on people with disabilities.

While many (most) in the disability community recognize that more needs to be done to give all citizens equal opportunities, including health care, education, training, and other areas, there is real concern about what a Romney presidency would mean for people with disabilities.

As an example, read award-winning journalist Barbara Miner's latest op-ed, "Romney's Disastrous Educational Agenda: Lessons from Milwaukee" in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Based on her reporting experience in Milwaukee, she writes that "in essence, vouchers are a mechanism to funnel public dollars into private schools. They are an abandonment of both public education and our country's democratic ideals."

In the Milwaukee voucher program, once held up as a national model, only 17.5 percent of students remained in voucher schools after five years, compared with a rate of 43.5 percent for public schools. States tests in math were significantly lower in private schools; reading was about equal.

Miner writes, "Every state constitution in the country enshrines the right to a free and public education for all children—an honor that is not bestowed on other requisites for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, whether housing or employment or healthcare.

"In the current debates on vouchers, there is strikingly little discussion of the relationship between democratic values, civic responsibility, and public education. Instead, education is treated as a mere commodity, with parents and children reduced to mere consumers."

Important to families whose children require special education, in Milwaukee the percentage of special education students in private voucher schools is just less than 2 percent, while it's about 20 percent in public schools. If you are a parent of a child with special needs and think vouchers are the way to go, imagine if you lived in Milwaukee. Do you really think schools with just 2 percent of their students in special ed are investing in the training, staffing, and specialized services that our students require?
Read Barbara's blog, View from the Heartland.
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