Zorn and Byrne Debate Meeks Voucher Plan

Eric Zorn and well-known commentator Dennis Byrne are debating school vouchers
As expected, Zorn raises questions (would troubled kids be accepted
into parochial schools?). Byrne throws out some studies suggesting
vouchers can help. Zorn questions the studies and Byrne's overheated
rhetoric.  Back and forth.  Then comments.

Good points made on both sides.  But it seems kind of half-hearted to me.  Everyone knows it's unlikely to happen anytime soon.  And it's unlikely to improve (or destroy) the public system for the vast majority.   Then again, it's a slow week in February. 

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  • I found that both Eric Zorn and Dennis Byrne were debating some type of generic voucher concept, not the actual bill proposed by Meeks and supported by Republicans SB2494. Unlike the Milwaukee program this one would be state wide, and as I have commented before it has no requirement that the student recieving the voucher had ever attended a public school.

    The scheme of the bill provides more money for families who have incomes up to 3 times the federal poverty level. Currently the federal poverty level for a family of four is $ 22,050 per year, hence families of four making up to $66,150 a year would be eligible for full reimbursement of up to $6,119 per student and families of four making up to $88,200 a year they would be provided with vouchers equaling $3,059 a year. Moreover, both Mr Byrne and Mr. Zorn would be eligible to recieve a voucher for $218 a year to allow their own children to attend Latin School.

    Byrne's comparison to the Milwaukee voucher law and Wisconsin's education fund is totally off base in relation to the Meeks bill. If it passed we would find thousands of families currently enrolling their students in private schools seeking vouchers, these would represent an additional cost to Illinois which is as we know is broke. To be honest, I would not blame these families for seeking relief from the state to privately educate their children if SB2494 became law.

    This bill will fail not just because as Zorn points out it will allow these private voucher schools to pick and choose students, or will likely violate the doctrine of separation of church and state, but because the State of Illinois simply can not afford such a bill. By the way there is no provision in SB2494 to provide private schools with additional funds for students with disabilities as Mr. Byrne suggests there would be.

    Rod Estvan

  • In reply to Rodestvan:

    Dear Rod-why do special ed aides in CPS have to run the copy machines? (the agressive mngmt part...?) Thanks!
    I am a displaced aide and found this in the 2/17 CPS job bulletin:
    Teacher Assistant HS: provides one-on-one tutoring services for students to present or reinforce learning concepts; accompanies students to swimming pool to supervise; assists teachers in maintaining written records of students

  • In reply to Rodestvan:

    On the issue raised by the displaced CPS special education aide. Currently the CPS has job codes for what are called special education aides. Depending on pay there are different catagories. There are special education classroom aides, child welfare attendants, etc, etc.

    Classroom aides can be required to do photo copying, as far as I know there is nothing in either the CTU contract or the SEIU contract that would prohibit that.

    Rod Estvan

  • In reply to Rodestvan:

    Thnaks Ron. In the CPS job Bulletin today, it is a special ed aide at Julian HS. Why an aide paid from special ed funds have to be atcopy machines INSTEAD of the students makes no sense and seems like a violation of the formula and IEPs.

  • In reply to Rodestvan:

    There is no intellectually sound argument against a properly crafted voucher plan.
    First, it should fund every child equally, and fully.
    Second, every dime of money should follow the child, and nothing else.
    Third, every school should become an independent (501(c)3 charter school run by an executive chosen by the parents.
    Fourth, these schools, and the 100s of potential new schools to follow, should be measured by a set of standards that take children through a robust, content rich, and sequenced process of subject matter mastery.
    The entire debate above, along with the comments, presume "fixing" the existing system. The existing system is not worth fixing or preserving. The assumptions and points debated, therefore, are mostly moot.

    Eric throws up weak, warmed-over arguments defending an overpriced and poorly functioning system, and Dennis raises philosophically and morally superior points that simply can't be fit into the current system.

    The entire system has to be phased-out and transformed into one where all the money follows the child. Meeks' legislation doesn't succeed, and probably isn't a viable step in that direction.

    For a model system that would work just fine, all one needs to do is look to Sweden (hardly a red state), which is nearly identical to what I've described above.

  • In reply to BrunoBehrend:

    Get the $120.000.000 from UNO and knock yourself out!

  • Retired Principal said: Rod, I would not want to get into a debate with you!

  • The e-IEP is redundant,cumbersome and time consuming and does not take into account the time/minutes servicing the child in his general education setting-only the pull-out minutes are counted.

    We are over the caseload/workload guidelines under ISBE/J-CAR/ any state in the union school codes regarding special education-how about plain old common sense-it is impossible to service 25 inclusion students spread out four grades.

    Instead of teachers spending time planning lessons we have been reduced to robotic paper producers.

    Where is the money OSS saved by not opening the correct number or teacher/aide positions during the 2009-10 school year. Everyone knows the referral rate for special education is down because of this new computerized fiasco-where is that money?

    I have an idea!

    Buy laptops for the special education teachers with this money so we aren't telling our family members that the home computer will be tied up all week-end!

  • In reply to anniesullivan:

    Sped is a mess!

  • In reply to anniesullivan:


    Thanks for the reply. I will be traveling over the next few days, and don't have the time to answer in detail right now.

    I find it useful to look into the back grounds of the people doing the studies. If Tobacco companies are suspect in researching the effect of tobacco, then people with a financial interest in maintaining a "bureaucracy based" education system warrant the same skepticism.

    I've seen enough data from Milwaukee and Washington DC to know that a) bureaucracy-based studies are suspect, and b) that even tertiary effects of parental involvement make choice worth more than a cursory attempt.

    As for impact on those who are disabled, I am probably less informed than Mr. Estvan, though likely to have a different perspective as well.

    I would vociferously argue FOR doing all we can to enhance the educational experience for the disabled. However, I would argue that, as with failed experiments like "class size" there is a law of diminishing returns.

    If the goal of "perfecting" the experience for the disabled creates a situation where it negatively impacts the overall system, then I would question the expenditures.

    Again, it would appear somewhat clear that allowing the disabled the greater "scholarship," while allowing the market to meet their needs, would be the most logical solution. (as opposed to mandating the "perfect" solution in every district/school). Yet even there you open the door to a moral hazard, as you create an incentive to have kids classified as special so as to gain access to more funds.

    As with most tricky issues, the intellectually honest from both sides of the ideological aisle are more likely to arrive at a just solution than leaving the answers to powerful financial interests that have already gamed and destroyed the existing system.

    All of that said, I will attempt to study Rod's links before commenting further.

  • In reply to anniesullivan:

    BTW, Rod, my version of the Swedish system, as applied to Illinois, can be found here.


    It's a 6 page Exec Sum of a 30 page or so plan. It is a bit dated, and I might see changing the tax reform portion, but if implemented, would not only improve Illinois schools, but go a long way toward solving the budget crisis as well.

  • In reply to anniesullivan:

    I question the use of beginning your argument by stating emphatically that there are no intellectually sound arguments against your position. It suggests you are not seeking to work with communities to create the best system for their children, but merely to win an esoteric argument and inflict your "extreme wisdom" on communities.

    Any educational reform that originates from the position that "Father knows best" will automatically fail due to the disrespectful place that it originates from. The irony of calling these plans "choice" should not be missed.

    As for the plan you propose, I agree entirely with your 5 objectives. They are meaningful goals to prioritize and it demonstrates wisdom, if not extreme wisdom, that you have identified them.

    Moving along, your tax reform proposal, while not novel, would certainly facilitate improvement in education. It represents what we would have in Chicago if we didn't have all the clout driven capital fund allotments and the TIF redistributions and the like. But the state of Chicago education and its separate and unequal status should be a cautionary tale that illustrates the potential for gaming an equal distribution of educational funds.

    However, your educational reform suggestions will not have the intended effects and suggest that you are being driven by the advertising propaganda of the charter and voucher lobby rather than the research on school improvement.

    I'll present some of the basic problems presented in your plan, and some of the research which refutes the effectiveness of each point.

    Vouchering up:
    1. Your system is based on the idea that all students are equal and thus deserve equal educational supports rather than equitable supports. If you need data on this one, it should be relatively easy to hunt down, but it should be extremely clear that students do not come from utterly equal circumstances or supports. A student coming from a family that can afford a thousand dollars weekly in private tutors and practically infinite supplementary educational supports will not need the same level of support at the school level as one who has no familial support, no academic training, and various other SES based needs such as homeless services, supplementary health services, or special education supports. It's a simple business reality that if you set the voucher level at a level that is in the middle of educational spending in some districts, then students who cost more than that level to educate will not be competed for, and the businesses and providers will spend all of the money competing for students who cost less to educate than the foundation level and have additional resources to pay beyond the foundation level rather than spending on the education of students.

    2. You will have the (un?)intended consequence of paying families who have already chosen private schools money. However, the market will adjust for this, so the most lucrative private operators will merely be able to up their tuition by the amount of the vouchers. They will continue to exclude those without money, but they will receive a new cash infusion from state taxpayers. The argument may surface that rewarding the super rich may encourage others to create lucrative private schools, but this does nothing to improve education for the vast majority of students in the state. It merely makes the super-elite more super elite at considerable cost to everyone else.
    3. Your plan doesn't seem to take into account cost of living or educating differences from district to district. Your plan would help small rural districts--which needs to be a prioritized in our state--but essential deny every impoverished child in the city of Chicago any hope of a competitive education.

    Phasing out the School District as a governmental entity:
    I have no interest in debating this topic at this time. I can see why those who would like to see a scaling down of government would support this measure, and the current state of local districts is so disparate that I think that it's a conversation for another time. I can certainly see the merits of moving resources away from entities that, in most cases, have no direct positive impact on the education of children, but complete decentralization tends to disenfranchise those who come from backgrounds where they are not taught self-efficacy.

    Converts every Public School in Illinois into an independent "Charter School"
    1. Not sure why this would be useful in any way. You support it with a single study from Hoxby, who basically has no credibility in charter school analysis, as she's been shown by independent researchers on multiple occasions to allow major flaws in her analysis in order to find reach a favorable conclusion for charter schools.

    If you are making your decisions on Hoxby, you are being gamed and need to read a greater diversity of studies.

    2. Charters avoid students who are more challenging to educate. (Brown and Gutstein)
    3. Charters don't innovate any better than non-charter schools.
    Denver Post article
    Innovation is occurring in some charters, but no more so than in public counterparts, according to Kevin Welner, director of the Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC) at the University of Colorado Boulder's School of Education.

    Most of the charter schools in the state

  • In reply to anniesullivan:

    jeff berkowitz responds with an overview of the chicago schools over the past 30 years


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