The last couple of days have seen two "big" reports released that at the same time tell us nothing we didn't already know and provide all sides with new stores of ammunition. I doubt anyone's mind changed about anything as they read these reports; their reactions almost certainly reflect what they already believe rather than anything about the reports themselves. They become mirrors, or Rorschach tests--what people say about the reports tells us more about those commenting than about the content of the reports.
The first is the report out on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, or the Voucher Program, as it's usually called. The report notes that comparable samples of students from the Milwaukee Public Schools and from voucher schools perform about the same. There's one reaction from people who dislike the voucher program, such as this conservative MPS teacher who, like me, has seen the effects of these schools on MPS first-hand. He writes,
So the kids are not doing better, but you are hurting the big schools on a number of factors. Bigger schools have more money and therefore have more programs and more opportunity. You have all these kids going to small schools all over Milwaukee with the bare minimum. And obviously they are not learning more. Cut cut cut cut cut is what happens all over MPS, so kids can leave and parents can pretend their kids are getting a better education.On the other hand, you get a predictable reaction from people who support the voucher program; Owen Robinson comments, "So… same performance for a fraction of the cost of MPS. Sign me up." (We've talked before about how specious the doing-more-with-less argument is.)
A third predictable reaction was Mayor Tom Barrett's jumping all over the reports notes about the funding flaw. Barrett claims the flaw costs Milwaukee taxpayers $47 million extra this year. I think that number may be high; apparently, the mayor is basing the figure on the researcher's belief that perhaps 90% of the students currently taking a voucher would be in MPS without the program. That number seems high to me based on recent data from the Public Policy Forum. I wrote about the 2006-2007 PPF report here, and noted that almost 60% of the new voucher users that year were not new to the schools the attended; i.e., they were students who would be in private schools regardless of voucher availability. The 2007-2008 report confirms this trend, noting that this year 44% of new voucher students were already enrolled in voucher schools before joining the program. (I meant to write more about this when the PPF report came out earlier this month, but I did not; you can hear an enlightening interview with Anneliese Dickman of the PPF on "Lake Effect.") Barrett still has a point; whether Milwaukeeans are being screwed out of $47 million or $24 million, we're still getting screwed.
The second report was the long-awaited Milwaukee Police Department investigation into the 2004 election in Milwaukee and allegations of "vote fraud." The report confirms what everybody already knew--the Milwaukee Election Commission in 2004 dropped a massive turd of a mess. Sloppy record keeping and incompetent (or willfully blind-eye-turning) poll records cast doubt over the whole affair and likely allowed a few bad seeds--felons or out-of-state ACORN volunteers--to cast votes illegally. The number of bad votes that could have been prevented by a photo ID law seems minimal, and the report reaffirms US Attorney Steven Biskupic's previous assertion that there were no organized attempts at fraud.
But a quick tour around the blogs this morning will show you, again, that those commenting have had their previously-held views firmly reinforced by the release of this report. Liberals and liberals like Bill Christofferson and the Brawler point out--rightly so, I think (I'm not above being a part of the Rorschach crowd)--that requiring an ID at the polls would solve virtually none of the problems in the report and likely cause more disenfranchisement than bad votes it would prevent. Conservatives see justification for such draconian measures.
To an extent, I think these reports encourage the Rorschach response in their refusal or inability to take any kind of a firm stand. The voucher report is very cautious about how this is the first year and we can't make any judgments yet. The voting report does nothing but identify what we already knew about the Election Commission three years ago--and much of that has changed since with the installation of a new boss and a crackdown on sloppiness. At least Biskupic took a stand on vote fraud, saying in the face of right-wing pressure that there was no organized fraud--but, then again, that almost got him fired. Maybe there's something to that . . .