Will vouchers end public schools?
Guest Column Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan might be getting a new job.
It depends on whether GOP presidential contender George W. Bush a) wins the presidency this November and b) agrees to appoint the McCain supporter his Secretary of Education.
If all of the above come true, America can kiss the public education system goodbye.
It is no secret that Keegan has championed a highly conservative approach to education. She wants to turn public education into a market-based system, which makes her the darling of those who want to end the public education system.
Pundit George F. Will wrote an endorsement for her in his April 17 Newsweek column that likened to a love poem.
"Keegan ... supported John McCain, who, regarding straight talk, is a shrinking violet compared with Keegan, a Stanford-educated intellectual who radiates prickly thoughts," Will wrote.
Instead of improving the current education system, Keegan's influence would eventually tear apart a public education system that ought to be saved.
The conservative premise that a market-based education system is best is wrong. Even though vouchers allow for "public choice," which on the surface sounds like a fine idea, it does nothing for the children who need the most help.
Apparently, Keegan believes that once you give parents a choice about where they can send their kids to school, all educational problems are solved.
But the poorest students will not be able to find their way out of a ghetto simply because the government sends them a check and says, "Go pick a school!"
There are structural problems that public choice programs do not solve. Instead of trying to fight the root of the problem — impoverished neighborhoods and cycles of poverty — vouchers will only allow the most privileged students to truly have control over where they go to school. A single-parent welfare family with many children will probably not be able to get out of their neighborhood in order to find a better school.
Poor schools exist in poor neighborhoods. And poor neighborhoods are the key problem that Keegan's agenda does nothing to solve. Simply taking a few lucky kids out of a bad neighborhood does not get to the root of the nation's education problem.
Students should not have to move anywhere in order to receive a good public education. The goal is to make all public schools good, to improve the system as it is.
But Keegan wants a revolution.
"[Keegan] does tend to lean toward completely changing things, blowing them up and starting over instead of building on success," Penny Kotterman, president of the Arizona Education Association, told The Associated Press. "She is clearly a spokesperson for the Republican agenda for education."
Will's love poem to Keegan proves that she represents the conservatives' educational agenda. He writes, "Bush would be wise to start now using his campaign to raise her profile as his kind of conservative and to begin plagiarizing from her."
Even though Keegan supported McCain in the Republican primary, her conservative agenda should win her plenty of support within the party for the appointment to Secretary of Education. She is a prime conservative candidate for the post.
If we elect another President Bush, America should pucker up.
It will soon be kissing public education goodbye.
This column first appeared in the University of Arizona newspaper, the Arizona Daily Wildcat, on April 18, 2000 and is reprinted here courtesy of U-WIRE.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Thursday, April 20, 2000