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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

McIlheran Watch: Spot the flaws in choice logic

by folkbum

Yesterday, there was some conversation around on the Milwaukee Parental Choice (the "voucher") Program. Milwaukee legislator Fred Kessler's been circulating a proposal to change mostly funding aspects of the program. (Some details are in this article explaining that Kessler's being stood up in a meeting with Governor Doyle.)

My BFF Patrick McIlheran weighed in on Kessler's proposal here. Unsurprisingly, he opposes it. But McIlheran engages in some twisted logic in defense of the voucher program. Early in his post you have this (my emphasis):
If I'm deciphering Kessler's prose correctly, he's saying that if a choice school takes in a kid and his younger brother is, say, autistic, the choice school has to take the autistic younger brother. Well: Choice schools already must accept "special needs" children [. . .] but they're not required to bankrupt themselves in doing so.
If I'm deciphering McIlheran's prose correctly--and given that's he's made this same set of arguments before, I think I am--he's arguing that voucher schools shouldn't have to spend a lot of money to offer services to special needs students. Indeed, they do not have to provide any services under state law.

Further down in McIlheran's post, though, is this (again, my emphasis):
Oh, and if the program does get killed, some of those 7,000 children will end up in MPS--where per-pupil costs to taxpayers total something like $10,000.
He's not wrong about the extra cost of an average MPS student. But as I have demonstrated before, the per-pupil cost of a regular-education student in MPS is not significantly greater than the value of a voucher awarded to a choice participant, even factoring in our union teachers and state and federal mandates.

Instead, it's the cost of students with additional needs--special education students, in particular--who drive up the cost of an average MPS student. And as we learned last week, MPS's superintendent is expecting as many as 25% of all high school students will be special education eligible within a few years. That number is certainly not helped by voucher schools who refuse to provide services (Hey! We can't make them bankrupt themselves!) forcing parents back into MPS where, under threat of lawsuits and the federal hammer, we have to spend two, three, sometimes ten times what it costs to teach a regular-education student. In other words, MPS is required to "bankrupt itself" to teach these kids!

So there's your choice logic: We can't make these voucher schools take expensive-to-teach students, because they don't have the money. And, hey, look at that, vouchers are a bargain! McIlheran is trying to have it both ways with a heads I win-tails you lose argument. It's a deal stacked against MPS.

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