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February 07, 2013

Michelle Rhee: My Break With Democrats on Vouchers

Michelle Rhee is an odd thing -- a Celebrity Civil Servant. She became famous upon appointment as superintendent of DC's school system, partly because she was a reformer and party, I suspect, because of biography (woman, Asian). She tried to reform DC's school bureaucracy. She failed. They said the system was unreformable, and they were right.

She's now breaking with Democrats on vouchers.

Here’s the question we Democrats need to ask ourselves: Are we beholden to the public school system at any cost, or are we beholden to the public school child at any cost? My loyalty and my duty will always be to the children.

Not everyone bought it. In fact, most of my Democrat friends remained adamantly opposed to vouchers. It was interesting, though: they were always opposed to the broad policy, but they could never reconcile their logic when thinking at the individual-kid level.


Most people in this country do not favor vouchers in education, because they don’t want public dollars going to private institutions or businesses. But the logic holds absolutely no water.

We have federal Pell grants that low-income students use all the time to attend private colleges. Pell grants aren’t limited to use at public universities. We have food stamps that low-income families redeem at nongovernment grocery stores. And let’s not forget about Medicare and Medicaid.

Think about it this way. Say your elderly mother had to be hospitalized for life-threatening cancer. The best doctor in the region is at Sacred Heart, a Catholic, private hospital. Could you ever imagine saying this? “Well, I don’t think our taxpayer dollars should subsidize this private institution that has religious roots, so we’re going to take her to County General, where she’ll get inferior care. ’Cause that’s just the right thing to do!”

No. You’d want to make sure that your tax dollars got your mom the best care. Period. Our approach should be no different for our children. Their lives are at stake when we’re talking about the quality of education they are receiving. The quality of care standard should certainly be no lower.

Republicans are losing politically right now because we're always on defense. The president calls upon his Palace Guard Media to push one after another tough vote on Republicans -- wedge issue votes, votes where the base of the party strongly feels one way but the majority (including those swing voters) feel another.

Wedge issues are a lose-lose proposition for whomever they're forced upon -- whichever way you vote, you're losing support.

Republicans are naturally disadvantaged in this struggle, as the president has the implicit power to set the national agenda, and of course his Palace Guard Media wants to help him out in his every tactical move.

But we have wedge issues we can force on Democrats, too. Such as vouchers. And we can start making them take some tough votes, too. House Republicans could make a stand, say, and announce they're not going to conduct any further business until a law permitting vouchers is enacted. Gin it up to a national policy conversation, insist that that conversation be had.

Democrats do not have a leg to stand on. They expressly believe that schools exist to serve the teachers unions, not the students. They are only able to continue this policy because no one talks about and no one forces the question in stark terms.

It's time to force it. The worst thing that can happen, politically, is that we advance our education policy from 1905 to the twenty-first century and liberate millions of children from the corrupt tyranny of incompetence that is our government school system.

And that's the worst thing that can happen. That's the downside. That millions of kids the Democrats have decided to write off as Collateral Damage -- consigning them to failure, crime, and minimum-wage jobs just to make sure its cadre of incompetent teachers never ever lose their jobs and the party can keep raking in that union money -- actually have a shot at the American Dream.

That's the worst that could happen.

Racist System: What would you say about a regime which, due to politics, chose to consign millions of black and Hispanic kids to failing schools every year and just shrugged off all that human misery they create-- the misery of failure, the misery of shattered dreams, the misery of perpetual status in the permanent underclass -- as a price well worth paying?

I'd call that pretty racist. Democrats apparently think poor black kids either don't matter or can't be educated, so it doesn't matter if we send them to an excellent school or we just warehouse them in failure factories until we turn them out to choose between careers in street crime or low-level food service.

That's a revolting system, and it should be revolted against.

So, What Could Republicans Actually Implement as a Law? One thought I had is that a law could be passed which created a Safe Harbor for schools which want to compete for vouchers. A National Safe-Harbor School Standards law (that sounds nice, even if it's bit of a hash-up).

Essentially the law would require schools -- if they wish to be certified; they don't have to do this, they just have to do this if they want Safe Harbor certification -- to disclose their financing and most importantly what tuition pays for. The critical thing here is that tuition cannot be used for any religious purpose; tuition money must go to education (and accounting must prove this).

The law would require other certifications like No Religious Discrimination and No Religious Instruction (at least not for any student whose education is paid for, in whole or in party, by vouchers).

Essentially it would track Supreme Court rulings and require signed certifications and external audits to establish these things. So that voucherization becomes bulletproof on these grounds, and bullshit arguments can't be used (dishonestly) to sandbag the movement.

Once certified by the standards of the Safe Harbor law, the school is declared presumptively in compliance with the separation of church and state. This would just be presumptive; I don't think you can take the question wholly out of the purview of the courts. But this sort of presumption and safe harbor is a common mechanism in law.

How state laws want to handle that is up to them. But the government could just create these standards and certifications (again, tracking Supreme Court guidelines) to facilitate voucherization of education. Then a state could pass a law making vouchers the baseline law, stating that vouchers can flow to any school which has been certified as a safe harbor school.

In addition, of course, any federal money for schools can be mandated to be in the form of vouchers which follow the student. That doesn't create any federalism concerns (or no new ones, anyway -- the federal government is already paying in this situation; might as well have the money go to a school the parent wants it to).

Oh And... Millions of downscale white kids are trapped in these failure factories too. So, you know. It's not just about minorities.

We're pretty much "educating" kids to be criminals, oxy addicts, and welfare cases.

Almost all pathologies begin with hopelessness. And you can't tell these kids, "Buck up, it's not hopeless," because in fact it is.

The system is designed to make them hopeless. Or, putting that less tendentiously, the system is definitely not concerned with giving them hope.

It's designed to keep fat-bottomed, low-IQ union hacks content.

The system is designed for their crucial years to be wasted by lazy morons until they either "graduate" or are simply encouraged to "self-deport." At which point they enter the workforce (if they even bother with that) with not only no education but without even learning the most important thing of all -- learning how to learn, and learning to like learning.

If you're 18 and you read on a second-grade level, what the hell career possibilities are open to you?

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posted by Ace at 12:39 PM

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