"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Privatizers Stung By Ohio Voucher Snub

What do you do if you offer a school choice that nobody chooses? Well, you just keep trying to force your school choice by offering a new deadline, just as the Ohio Department of Education (R) has done after an anemic response to their voucher deadline last Friday:
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — State school officials will give students at some of Ohio’s most troubled public schools a second opportunity to sign up for vouchers this summer after the first chance at free money for private education generated lukewarm interest.

As Friday’s midnight deadline approached, only about 1 in 20 eligible students had signed up for the scholarships of up to $5,000 — despite mass mailings, advertisements in minority and mainstream media, and community meetings paid for by the state, said J.C. Benton, an Ohio Department of Education spokesman.

However, the state doesn’t view the 5 percent to 6 percent participation rate — about 2,450 students — as a disappointment, Benton said. The state’s goal is for 14,000 students to enroll, 30 percent of those who are eligible.

“We didn’t expect the first year to hit 14,000 students. That was not a realistic expectation,” he said.

Benton referenced a report that noted much lower first-year participation rates in similar programs across the country, including a 0.7 percent rate in the first year of a Milwaukee program; a 0.3 percent rate in Florida’s McKay voucher program; and a 1.7 percent rate in the first year of Washington, D.C.’s voucher program. Participation is those programs has grown over time.

The Ohio Legislature voted this year to expand the school voucher program by including students from poorly performing schools that don’t yet carry the worst academic rating.

Critics argue that interest in the scholarships is low because, under the program’s rules, participating private schools can turn away students they don’t want.

Benton conceded that a few families have complained to the state about not being able to afford private school application fees or that their children were unable to pass a private-school admission test.

Meanwhile, as enrollment lagged last week, the state saw a surge in private-school families enrolling their children at eligible public schools they had never attended in an attempt to qualify for the voucher scholarships — $4,250 for younger children and $5,000 for high school students.

“It is, by design, creating a new privilege rather than a new set of opportunities,” said Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, a teachers’ union. “These elite private schools aren’t going to admit anyone they don’t want to. It’s not opening doors to students that might not already meet their standards.”

Benton said any barriers that the Education Department identifies will be raised when it submits its report to the Legislature suggesting future improvement to the program. Thus far, he said, admission criteria at private schools have not proven to be “a huge hindrance.”

He said it is possible that public school students are satisfied with the schools they are attending, many that programs and help tailored to the challenges they face.

The second signup period will be July 21 to Aug. 4.

The fact is that the best private schools don't want these black, brown, and poor children, and even if they did, these vouchers would not come close to paying the tuition. It's like Kozol said: When conservatives are willing to offer every poor black and Hispanic child a 25 thousand dollar voucher to go to Exeter, that is the day I will become a Republican.

If the Supreme Court of Ohio were not presently paid for by the Republican Party, we might expect the constitutionality of these vouchers to become an issue, as it did in Florida. Of course, if the lack of enthusiasm continues, court action will not be necessary to send the privatizers home once more.

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