My post last week on why supporters of charter schools don’t also support vouchers generated a large amount of discussion. Here are some tidbits on the same topic:
First, Doug Tuthill, the former teacher union leader and now head of Florida’s choice advocacy group, Step Up For Students, emailed me to say:
In Florida we have adopted the same approach to charters and vouchers you advocated in your recent exchange with Andy Rotherham. Given the idealized status of “public education” in our culture, getting into a public versus private school debate is a losing proposition. Therefore we argue that publicly-funded private schools are part of our public education system and the real issue is how best to regulate all publicly-funded education. Our approach is aided by the reality that public education in Florida is expanding to incorporate a variety of publicly-funded private providers. Many of the state’s best secondary magnet programs are run by private providers (my favorites are two aeronautic magnet programs run by Embry-Riddle University in Okaloosa County), the K-5 portion of our state online school, the Florida Virtual School, is run by a private provider, the overwhelming majority of our charter schools are run by private providers, and of course all the schools providing services through the McKay and Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships are private providers. To arbitrarily label some of these public-private partnerships as “voucher” programs and therefore suggest they are bad is nonsensical. The goodness or badness of any publicly-funded education program should be determined by its effectiveness and efficiency, not by how it is labeled.
Andy and President Obama, among others, are caught in the old “public-versus-private-school” paradigm, which is why they support “charters” but not “vouchers.” But as you pointed out in your exchange with Andy, this is an illogical distinction unless one is stuck in the “public is good, private is bad” mindset and possesses a myopic view of what constitutes public and private.
And here is an interesting item about how Orthodox Jewish groups have come out against secular charter schools as a substitute for a Jewish education. The Ben Gamla Hebrew Charter School in Florida focuses on Hebrew language and Jewish history but has no religious instruction. And it is drawing students away from Jewish private schools in part because the charter is free to students while the private schools have to charge tuition. The huge expansion in charter schools may be posing an even greater competitive threat to established private schools than to traditional public schools.
Leaders of the Orthodox movement recognize this threat to their efforts to focus on religious instruction. A spokesman for the Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Avi Shafran, commented: “We are not pro-charter schools. They are not replacements for a yeshiva education, and anyone who can imagine they could be are fooling themselves… There is no end around the fact that Jewish education is a Jewish education and that can only happen in a Jewish institution with a Jewish curriculum. And because our nation does not permit religious instruction in public schools, there is no way to avoid the need that Jewish parents have for yeshivas.”