Monday, June 17, 2013

Pickler Makes the Washington Post

Former Chairman of the (1.0 version of the) Shelby County School Board, current District Five School Board Commissioner, and newly-installed President of the National School Board Association David Pickler wrote a piece for the Washington Post last month.  In an article called "What's Wrong with School 'Choice'?  Here's what", Commissioner Pickler takes a strong stand against school vouchers.

Do we remember the competing voucher bills in the Tennessee legislature?  Back when our very own Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) kept trying to expand the governor's proposed voucher program to folks with higher incomes?  Back when he became Exhibit A of the supermajority's inability to parlay their elective success into actual governance?  Back then, we learned that Republicans, even when they can't agree on how such a program should look (or just how much money should be transferred to religious schools), support vouchers.

That the various voucher programs keep getting declared unconstitutional, as they have in Louisiana and in a new iteration in New Hampshire, is irrelevant.  But Republicans generally have adopted vouchers as a legislative priority, and a fair number of Democrats also support voucher programs.  They have a number of euphemisms for the concept:  "school choice", "opportunity scholarships", "subsidizing religious schools with low endowments who need a quick way to increase enrollment."

Dems have been dealing with internal disagreements over education reform issues for quite some time - after all, Michelle Rhee claims to be a Democrat, and we've seen a rise in astro-turf-not-quite-grass-roots groups like Democrats for Education Reform trying to take root on college campuses.  Maybe some internal disagreements on education reform issues exist among Republicans as well.  I can't speak for Commissioner Pickler (and hey, he might not want me to), but my best guess is that he is a Republican.  Interesting.

Commissioner Pickler's Washington Post piece is good stuff.  Though it was published after the heat of the state legislature's debacle, and focused more on the national debate than the vagaries of the proposals in Tennessee, the piece is chock full of actual argument instead of fluffy talking points.

Some of the lines that "resonated" with me (that's consultant-speak for "stuff I liked"):
  • "Imagine a state outsourcing the education of its disadvantaged children to dozens of private entities, asking for only minimal updates on the students’ learning and their financial management of taxpayers’ dollars."
  • "This ill-devised [Louisiana] law—which was designed as a template for other states—was driven primarily by outside forces that want to make big profits on the backs of our nation’s most vulnerable children."
  • "The Louisiana voucher law gives up most accountability for school finances or student achievement when it hands over the taxpayers’ check. The schools that take fewer than 40 voucher students are not even required to show any data for their students’ learning. These schools are not required to hire certified teachers or teach the skills students need for higher education and the workplace in the 21st century."
Good job, Commissioner Pickler.

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