Putting the 'ouch' in voucher accountability

The original voucher pioneer, Milwaukee, is now pioneering voucher regulation. The Wisconsin legislature's latest budget proposal includes a host of new stipulations for schools participating in the choice program, including administering the state's assessment to voucher recipients (previously they could use one of several nationally-normed tests), employing only teachers with at least a bachelor's degree, and meeting the same amount of minimum instructional time as public schools. The final regulations were the result of intense negotiation, and, unsurprisingly, not all parties emerged satisfied. But long-time voucher advocate Howard Fuller termed the end product "a decent result" and we're inclined to agree, at least about the testing part. Twenty years into the voucher movement, we've learned the hard way that competition alone isn't a sufficient form of educational quality control. Vouchers are an important component of ensuring every child has access to a high quality education--but receiving public dollars means some public accountability, too. Wisconsin would have been wiser to adopt our "sliding scale" solution--the more dollars a school receives from vouchers, the more transparency and accountability it should face--and it's hard to justify regulating such "inputs" as teacher credentials and instructional hours. But voucher supporters need to acknowledge, as Fuller does, that private schools, too, must produce evidence that publicly-financed pupils are actually learning.

"Budget proposal includes new rules for voucher schools," by Alan J. Borsuk, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, June 1, 2009

"School Reforms on the Brink," editorial, Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2009

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