April 01, 2001 2 min read
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Shrinking Support

Conservatives are in favor of vouchers, right? Not all of them, reports Sarah Wildman in the February 26 issue of the New Republic.

“The dirty secret of the school-vouchers debate,” she asserts, “is that many conservatives don’t want them.” That’s because many suburban voters, including Republicans, fear that vouchers would undermine their public schools. And, she notes, “a significant portion of the Christian right isn’t wild about vouchers either.”

The reason? Some Christian conservatives fear that government funding of religious schools will give bureaucrats an excuse to prevent proselytizing and to otherwise interfere in parochial schools. “We don’t want the government telling us how to structure our curriculum or them telling us who our students are,” John Holmes, director of government affairs at the Association of Christian Schools International, tells Wildman.

So when, during his first few weeks in office, President George W. Bush backed away from his school-voucher plan and instead proposed tax credits to offset the cost of private schools, he may have simply been taking the path of least resistance.

Tax credits, Wildman explains, may have more conservative support than vouchers, but they won’t necessarily accomplish the same thing. She argues, “While tax credits wouldn’t have the negative impact Democrats associate most closely with vouchers— draining funds directly from public school budgets—neither would they offer vouchers’ one clear benefit: enabling lowincome kids to get out of failing public schools.”

Growing Pains

The first two charter schools in Washington, D.C., opened their doors in the fall of 1996. Now, nearly 10,000 students, or 12 percent of the city’s public school population, attend 33 charter schools, making the district one of the most “charterized” jurisdictions in the country.

These schools were supposed to provide children with sound educational alternatives and give the District’s education system a much-needed shot in the arm. But things haven’t turned out that way, according to an article by Laura Lang ( “Learning the Hard Way”) in the February 2-8 issue of the Washington City Paper. Lang, who has contributed to Teacher Magazine, writes: “Both promises turned out to be mythical projections that overlooked the practical difficulties of starting a school from scratch. . . . Early reviews of schools show that most aren’t offering anything remarkably better than what you’d find in your regular neighborhood school.”

World Public Charter School, for example, advertised Italian and Chinese language-immersion programs and a new location in the Capital Children’s Museum when foster parent Courtney Kelly checked it out last summer. On opening day, however, Kelly learned that the museum space had fallen through and that classes would be held at a nearby church. She “showed up that first morning hoping to find a stable learning environment,” but instead found chaos, writes Lang. Classes lacked books, teachers were in short supply, and the curriculum turned out to be nothing like the one promised.

Charter school advocates argue that it takes time to get things right. “But,” Lang points out, “the charter school idea was founded on the rationale that children couldn’t afford to wait while administrators in the public school system fumbled their way to efficiency and sound teaching.”

——David Hill


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