Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The lowdown on the voucher movement

A powerful, well-written column in the Feb. 12 St. Louis Suburban Journals lays it right on the line as far as the powerful, well-financed pro-voucher movement in Missouri is concerned. The author is Carl Peterson, former president of the Ferguson/Florissant School Board:

Are you ready to pay for a millionaire's child to go to John Burroughs School or Mary Institute St. Louis Country Day School?

Not only would Missouri taxpayers foot the bill for those children if the Legislature passes House Bill 1316, but state Rep. Cynthia Davis also wants us to pay her to home school her children.

If tax rebates for private schools sound good, then how about gas coupons for those who don't use public transportation, or bookstore gift cards for those that don't use the public library?The ultimate goal of school-choice supporters is to acquire between $1 billion and $2 billion in tax monies for their private schools. Taxpayers would either have to absorb devastating cuts in public education or pony up an extra $1 billion-$2 billion in taxes.

Voucher organizations are well funded for spewing out unproven negative propaganda about public schools and for giving large campaign donations to politicians pushing their greed agenda. Two of these organizations are the Show Me Institute of billionaire Rex Sinquefield, a member of the investment committee for the St. Louis Archdiocese; and the deceptively named All Children Matter, the brainchild of Amway founder Dick DeVos.

Private schools will argue they are open to all and can educate students for less money, but do they really?

I talked about at-risk children with Karen Tichy, assistant superintendent for instruction for the St. Louis Archdiocese. Tichy is a wonderful woman committed to the education of every child, public or private. Yet when I asked what school I could bring only 150 at-risk children to, she frankly told me the Archdiocese would have to spread them out over its entire 139-school system.

If the Archdiocese would strain to take on 150 at-risk children, then obviously it is not a solution for the needs of the tens of thousands at-risk students in the metro area. Tichy and I agreed neither school system has the resources for this overwhelming job.

At a forum I asked former state Rep. Carl Bearden what he would do about the one-third of Missouri's children that aren't reading at grade level. He replied, "I can tell you one thing, it isn't for lack of money." When I told Tichy what Bearden said, she replied, "Mr. Bearden is just wrong."

So even the Archdiocese isn't drinking the Kool-Aid of money not being vital or that parochial schools are the solution to educating at-risk students. Yet pro-voucher forces keep repeating their discredited criticism of public schools, as if it were the Holy Grail.

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