Nevada has made its bid for a gold medal in the race to the bottom of the barrel for public education. The state's GOP legislature, with help from Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education (a name that belongs in Orwellian annals right next to "Peacekeeper Missile"), has created an all-state voucher system.
This is the full deal. No foot-in-the-door program for poor, disabled, or trapped-in-failing-school students. Next fall every single student in Nevada gets a taxpayer-funded voucher to spend at the school whose marketing most appeals to that student's parents.
The backers of the bill are as delighted as they are divorced from reality. Here's bill sponsor Senator Scott Hammond, quoted in the Washington Post:
Nothing works better than competition.
This statement belongs in the annals of baseless expressions of faith, right next to "I'm sure that he'll leave his wife soon" or "Everything should be fine now that the government guy is here to help us" or "Go ahead and hand me that basket of vipers; I'm sure God will protect me."
In point of fact, not only do many things work better than competition, but competition doesn't really work all that well. And competition certainly does not work well when we're talking about providing an important public service to all people-- not just the ones who win the competition. It's true that when it comes to winning the race or getting the VP job or convincing that hot human to marry you, there can be only one. But what does that have to do with public education? Does Senator Hammond believe there should only be one great school in Nevada and only some students should get to succeed?
There are so many ways in which competition does not belong in public education. Building is a better metaphor than racing. Competition doesn't even foster traditional conservative values. The free market often resists quality rather than fostering it. The market doesn't know what to do with "losers." Charter school competition does not create pressure for excellence. Market competition creates perverse incentives to game the system, and tends to put the wrong people in charge. Choice twists the product in an involuntary market. Voucher system disenfranchise the taxpayers, literally creating taxation without representation and pitting taxpayers against parents. The whole inefficient system depends on lies and fantasies for financing. And if you think competition fosters excellence, just go take a look at your cable tv. Or take a look at how it has worked out in the college market. Finally, don't forget that time that Dr. Raymond of CREDO (charter and choice fans par excellence) declared that the free market doesn't work in education.
Like many school choice programs, Nevada's will actually be a school's choice program. The vouchers will provide poor students with a whopping $5,700. Want to go to Shiny Rich Prep Academy, high-poverty students? So sorry. It turns out your voucher just doesn't quite bring in enough money. Are you a student with issues, problems, or a disability? Sorry-- it's too hard to make money educating you, so we're going to find some means of making you go away.
Though it should be noted-- in one potential windfall for families that aren't all that into the whole edumacation thing, the voucher can be spent on home school supplies.
All of you who can't get into a Really Nice School? You are all welcome to go back to a public school. You know-- the public school that had to cut pretty much everything because it lost a ton of money to vouchers. Have a great time, you reject, but take comfort in knowing that the voucher program made it possible for rich families who were going to send their kids to SRPA anyway to have a bit more money to finance that trip to Paris this summer.
Of course, no piece about FEE's devotion to helping states screw over poor students would be complete without a quote from the reformsters own Dolores Umbridge:
“This is the wave of the future,” said Levesque, whose foundation helped
Nevada legislators draft the measure while its nonprofit sister
organization, Excel National, lobbied to get it passed. “In all aspects
of our [meaning we deserving wealthy folks] life, we look for ways to customize and give individuals [who are the right kind of people] more
control over their path and destiny [while freeing them from any requirement to help Those People]. . . . This is a fundamental shift
in how we make decisions about education [in the sense that we are allowing the Right People more choice and taking choices and resources away from Those People who really don't deserve them].”
I edited her quote slightly to make sure her meaning was a little more clear.
Nevada was already well-positioned for the Race to the Bottom prize, consistently ranking among the bottom ten states for education funding. With this bold step, they have insured that even that little bit of money will be spent in the most in efficient, wasteful manner possible. Not only will they be duplicating services (can you run two households with the same money it takes to run one?), but by draining funds away from public schools, they can guarantee that those public schools will struggle with fewer resources than ever.
This is not out of character for Nevada. Las Vegas has long been notorious as a place where folks want their tourist industry to be well staffed with lots of cheap labor, but they don't want those workers to be able to actually live in Vegas. Many would prefer that workers simply vanish after they punch out. We want Those People to be in the casinos, serving us drinks, showing skin, and looking happy-- but we don't want Those People to live in our shiny city. While what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, those who make it happen are not.
Levesque is correct in one respect-- this really is a fundamental shift in how Nevada handles public education, in the sense that this is Nevada throwing up its hands and saying, "Screw it. We're not even going to pretend to try to provide a quality public education for all children in the state."