The year 2009 has not been kind to school vouchers.
Over the weekend the Democrat-controlled Congress put the final nail in the coffin of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Though students now in the program may continue, new students will not be admitted. This despite positive research described here by Patrick Wolf. President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan made it clear they had no problem with winding down the program.
Earlier this year, Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor and Legislature reduced the already meager funding for the 20-year old Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Taxpayer support for private schools in the program is $6,442 per student; public schools in Milwaukee receive $13,818. Wisconsin also imposed a public school-style regulatory regime that will take effect in 2010-11. Private schools in the Milwaukee voucher program are starting to take stock of the double-whammy: higher costs to comply with new regulations at the same time that their financial support is declining.
These developments followed 2008 elections in which Democrats took control of executive and legislative branches in Wisconsin and at the national level. While some in the party have expressed support for school choice, the predominant view is hostile. The unrivaled political support from teacher unions, described here by Paul Peterson, is a major factor.
If voucher programs are endangered, some have suggested that “charters” are the way to go. But of course charters come in many forms. Will the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers view non-union charter schools any differently than private schools?
In the end, elections matter. As such, 2010 looms large for those who support expanding parent education options.