UPDATE: Milwaukee Voucher Program

Thursday, March 26, 2009
Dr. Howard Fuller -- a Milwaukee-based national school voucher advocate, long-time champion of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, and former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent -- today announced his support for greater regulation of voucher schools, as proposed by Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle in his biennial state budget. (Nice summary of the Governor's proposal at Blogging MPS.)

I am glad to see that Governor Doyle has not backed away from the proposals he made for greater accountability in the voucher program back in 2005 and 2006--specifically, higher standards for voucher-school teachers and public reporting of standardized tests for each voucher school. With Democrats now in control of both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature, the path has been cleared for needed reforms to the program -- reforms in the best interest of students and parents.

Read more in Alan Borsuk's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story ("Key voucher advocate says more regulation, standards for program needed"). Excerpts below:

Howard Fuller, the former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent who is now a central figure nationally in advocating for school choice, said he wants school leaders to join with Gov. Jim Doyle, legislative leaders and others in working out new ways to assure that students of all kinds have quality teachers in quality schools.

"We can't just keep wringing our hands about these terrible schools," Fuller said. "We have a moral responsibility to our children to not accept that."

Fuller was reacting both to a new set of studies of the voucher program and to a dramatically different situation for voucher supporters in the state Capitol.

In Madison, with both houses of the Legislature now controlled by Democrats, prospects are strong for passage of legislation pushed by critics of the voucher program that would impose stricter rules on many fronts. Such proposal have not passed in recent years because Republicans controlled at least one house of the Legislature and voucher leaders - including Fuller - resisted many of them.

In his state budget, Doyle called for changes in the voucher program, including requiring teachers to meet higher qualification standards and requiring the voucher schools to give standardized tests and report the results publicly.

"Many of the provisions he has in there are sensible and reasonable, and we ought to do this," Fuller said.

Reacting to specific proposals made by Doyle, Fuller said, "Who can argue with the need to have standards for how kids move from one grade level to another?" He said the same was true for such ideas as setting stricter standards for graduation, annual hours of instruction and handling of student records in a standardized way that allows such things as school transfers to be made smoothly.

The state Department of Public Instruction released a list recently of 57 new applicants to participate in the voucher program next fall. Most of them were people who have not run schools before and appeared to have little structure or backing for their plans.

"We've got to figure out a way to stop people (such as those) from starting schools in the first place," Fuller said. "Who in their right mind would argue that we don't have to do something like that?"

State law currently requires voucher school teachers to have high school diplomas. Fuller said, "Who could argue with a notion of a bachelor's degree for teachers?"

What about the private schools giving state standardized tests and making the results public?

"We clearly have to do that," he said.