SALT LAKE CITY – Vouchers just got harder to sell, says Wayne Holland, chair of the Utah Democratic Party.
“Utahns demand that their education tax dollars be spent wisely. They demand accountability,” said Holland. “And now we see what can happen without oversight: bad schools and little change for the better.”
Holland was referring to study released Tuesday in Milwaukee that suggests school choice isn’t a powerful tool for driving educational improvement.
Perhaps more surprising than that conclusion is the fact that the organization issuing the study is the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank that has supported school choice for almost two decades, when Milwaukee became the nation’s premier center for trying the idea.
“We had expected to find a wellspring of hope that increased parental involvement in the Milwaukee Public Schools would be the key ingredient in improving student performance," wrote George Lightbourn, a senior fellow at the institute. But “there are realistic limits on the degree to which parental involvement can drive market-based reform.”
Even some of the most ardent supporters of school choice in Milwaukee have backed away from advocacy of the purest version of the idea – in which there is little government oversight of schools and parental decisions in a free market dictate which schools thrive, according to Alan J. Borsuk writing in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Howard Fuller, a prominent supporter of voucher and charter schools in Milwaukee, has changed his position. He now believes that strong government oversight of voucher schools is needed, according to Borsuk’s report.
Asked whether the voucher program was leading to improvements in the achievement of students in Milwaukee, as was once expected, Fuller said: “I'm one of those people who believes that we may have oversold that point. . . . I think that any honest assessment would have to say that there hasn't been the deep, wholesale improvement in MPS that we would have thought.”