Milwaukee, Wisconsin is home to one of the most ambitious school choice programs in America and Scott Walker is a wingnut rockstar, so it’s no surprise that he’ll be headlining at a big pro-voucher event. What’s striking here is the harmonic convergence between unsound leftwing and unsound rightwing ideas about public education:
Gov. Scott Walker is scheduled to give a speech next month about school choice at a national meeting of the American Federation for Children. Walker is proposing expanding the voucher program that currently is only available to low-income students in Milwaukee. He wants to expand the program to all of Milwaukee County and phase out the low-income qualifying ceiling. He also wants to do away with a requirement that voucher students take the same statewide achievement tests as students in public schools.
Parents should have more choice about where to send their kids to school. But parents should also have reliable information about school performance that lets them make valid comparisons. This seems to me to be absolutely basic common sense—education is important, so we should tax people to spend money on it, and we should try hard to ensure that the money is well spent.
But you see this alternative idea from both the left and the right wherein education actually isn’t important and so it’s not important to make any effort to ensure that the money we spend on it is being well-spent. The convergence tends to be obscured by the fact that conservatives fanatically hate teachers’ unions and teachers’ unions are often influential in Democratic Party politics. But the basic agenda of public money without public accountability is the same. The difference is that Walker wants to take the money out of unionized public schools and shift it to publicly financed religious schools. The dispute over exactly who gets their hands on the accountability-free funding stream is ultimately not that important. What’s needed is a firm insistence that schools of all kinds be held to a standard where people can see if kids are learning anything.