Voucher backers have ulterior motives
Dave Zweifel, The Capital Times, August 1, 2003
A new report by the People for the American Way Foundation contains some disturbing details about the movement for private school vouchers. While there are undoubtedly many parents in troubled school districts who sincerely believe that tax-supported vouchers will help their children get a better education, the report suggests that they are being used as patsies for a much bigger goal - the privatization of all public education.
The report, called The Voucher Veneer: The Deeper Agenda to Privatize Public Education (it's online at http://www.pfaw.org/go/voucher_veneer), uncovers a network of Religious Right groups, free-market economists, ultraconservative columnists and others "who are using vouchers as a vehicle to achieve an ultimate goal of privatizing" the education system.
For instance, the report cites the following examples of education views held by many of the leading voucher proponents:
Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute (an ultraconservative Chicago think tank that is liberally supported by the Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, one of the biggest voucher backers in Wisconsin), has called vouchers the "way to privatize schooling," and has predicted that voucher programs for the "urban poor will lead the way to statewide universal voucher plans. "Soon, most government schools will be converted into private schools or simply close their doors," Bast predicts.
David Brennan, an Ohio businessman and the author of Cleveland's new voucher law, proclaims proudly that "education is first, last and always a business."
Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican and ardent voucher supporter, remarked when he was appointed to the House education committee that he was now in a position to advance the privatization agenda. "I think it's a lot easier to kill the beast when you get in the cave," he said.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell, who along with his colleague in the Religious Right, Pat Robertson, is an incessant voucher advocate, has proclaimed, "I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them."
The "veneer," according to the report, is provided by concerned parents who feel the public system has failed their children, particularly in large urban areas like Milwaukee.
But the People for the American Way is convinced the voucher system has become a convenient cover for a more sophisticated ambition that includes making our schools more a business and less burdensome on the tax rolls.
One example: The Heritage Foundation, in one of its own reports, has expressed hope that "vouchers could limit how much taxpayers must pay to educate the disabled and begin a movement toward cost containment." In other words, private schools won't have to accept "expensive" students who might hurt the bottom line.
Some would argue that the report is describing a conspiracy that doesn't really exist. Nevertheless, we better be paying attention.
Dave Zweifel has been editor of The Capital Times since 1983. A native of New Glarus, Wis. and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his life-long goal was to be the editor of this newspaper. He has had more luck achieving that than his other fondest hope - watching the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. He served for many years as president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and served two years as a juror for the Pulitzer Prizes.