Thursday, January 11, 2007

Attack on public education continues

One of the most powerful opponents of public education. Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, was returned to her position as chairman of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee earlier this week.
Ms. Cunningham, as I noted in the Jan. 6, 2006, Turner Report, has made no secret of her contempt of public education, something which logic would dictate would make her exactly the wrong person to place in charge of the committee which has so much control over public schools.
Perhaps the reason for the appointment is the one she gave when successfully campaigning for the post in 2005: the amount of money she brought to Republican legislators from the pro-voucher group All Children Matter:

In the Jan. 6, 2006, Turner Report, I wrote:

However, an even more illuminating picture of Rep. Cunningham's true views about public education comes from an Oct. 1, 2003, article in the conservative School Reform News.
Under the headline, "Trying to Make a Difference in the Show-Me State," the article tells the story of how Ms. Cunningham came to favor vouchers following her experiences as a school board member. When she tried to do something about parents taking their children out of public school and placing them in private school, she said, she ran into a lack of interest. "We have fewer children to educate and we still get their taxes," she says her fellow board members told her. She said that with her background in economics she could see the harm this education "monopoly" was causing.
The point was further driven home, she said, after she took one of her sons out of public school (the article does not say why) and put him in a Catholic school. Her son, who had been receiving A's and B's in math in public school, did poorly in the private school.
"The staff at the Catholic school thought he must have a learning disability, because they could not imagine his local school had done such a poor job," Rep. Cunningham said.
The article goes on to say that "after intensive personal attention by his teacher, her son rose to the 90th percentile in math."
Rep. Cunningham makes no bones about her efforts to move Missouri toward a voucher system. The School Reform News article says, "In 2003, Cunningham sponsored two school choice bills, both designed 'to get folks comfortable with the concept.' One bill addressed the issue of access to programs in public schools denied to non-public schoolchildren whose families were residing in and paying taxes to the public schools. The other, HB 345, would have given school choice to at-risk children in low-income families and in families where a parent is a prison inmate. Although neither bill passed, she was happy to be able to bring some Black Caucus members on board with HB 345." The magazine article was written by Laura J. Swartley, communications director for the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, Indianapolis, Ind. The Friedman Foundation began the school voucher movement in 1955.
Rep. Cunningham is serving as chairman of the ALEC Education Task Force. Her co-chairman is Robert Enlow of the same Milton & Rose Friedman Foundation.

When you add the attempts by Gov. Matt Blunt to appoint voucher proponents to the State Board of Education, it is obvious that public education is under attack once again.


Anonymous said...

Hi there-

This is my first time visiting your blog. It's interesting reading.

Full transparency up front.. I do work for the Friedman Foundation. Also, I previously worked 6+ years at the Brookings Institution. People who know me well, I think, would say that I am more a pragmatist than ideologue.

This comment is my personal view.

I have to ask why you put "monopoly" in quotes?

I think most people would agree that school districts and their boards are indeed local monopolies. And school boards (wonderful in theory) can actually be very undemocratic and non-public institutions having non-public processes.. especially in cities and low income areas.

I don't know if this is the best place for debate, but I also disagree with what you imply as what constitutes a public edcuation.

I think the old definition focused on inputs - "schools funded by tax dollars" - is on the decline. It is also, with due respect to folks out there, not considering long term public goals. I don't think this old definition will fly with people who are now in their 20s and 30s, beginning to enter the workforce and raising young families. Generation X is fairly jaded with government administration and services. It is more hope than anything right now :) but I believe the concept of public education will eventually evolve beyond the focus on inputs. We wn't of course completely disregard, but in general the inputs emphasis is no longer productive or helpful to move forward, in my opinion.

If a school (any school - district, parochial, independent, private, etc.) educates a child who later benefits our larger society, that to me is the definition of public schooling and education.

I know this could be viewed as playing with semantics, but the definition of public education (I believe) is at the heart of the debate on the appropriateness of vouchers and school choice.

Hope all of this makes sense.


Anonymous said...

Well, I'm not much of a debater. No real interest in it, but I would point out that private schools are far from being democratic and because they are private are not forced to abide under the inconvenience of things like sunshine laws. And then there's the minor fact that they are not obligated to take those who might "drag down" their scores. In effect, they can simply skim the cream off the top and rake in to kudos and congratulations without doing all that work.

And this probably puts me in the old fuddyduddy category in your mind, but there must be some reason our forefathers created a public school system...

But then again, like I said, I'm just an old fuddyduddy, not a smart and slick Gen Xer like you. So I guess I'll just have to continue to stumble blindly through life knowing that I will never be able to compete on an intellectual basis with those younger than me.