Monday, July 11, 2011

From Political Differences Comes Some Common Ground

Accountability is a paramount part of any successful school choice program. Not only are transparency and accountability smart public policy, but they provide our movement and our advocates with readily available data and information to describe the successes of the programs.

But accountability can also go far in forming some unlikely political alliances.

You’ll recall last month that Wisconsin passed a state budget that included historic expansions of school choice in both size and scope. Heralded and ultimately signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker, it was met with strong opposition from State Superintendent Tony Evers. And while we disagree with Evers, we respect his difference of opinion and believe that, at the end of the day, he really does want what he thinks will best serve kids.

That’s why we’re happy to hear about the two improbable allies joining forces to create a new accountability system to cover all schools in Wisconsin that receive public funds, including schools serving students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. In the past, both Walker and Evers have criticized the federally-mandated No Child Left Behind Act, which has proved problematic in accurately and efficiently gauging school effectiveness.

A local news report provides some of the details on the plan, as well as the players behind it:

Even better is the fact that eight statewide education organizations are looking to collaborate to hammer out a new system of accountability. It’s worth noting that many of those organizations were split on the proposal to expand vouchers, but now that the expansion is law, they’re putting aside their differences to make sure that participating students will be a part of the best program possible.

As is eloquently stated in this piece, regardless of our political differences and which legislative side wins, the goal should only be about helping families. It’s hard to argue with putting more accountability standards in place; not just for voucher schools, but for all of Milwaukee’s schools getting taxpayer dollars.

Promising as it is to see disagreements put aside in the pursuit of helping kids, we’re disappointed to read that a constant foe to reform is once again rearing its head. The Wisconsin Education Association Council has so far been unwilling to take part in developing the plan, despite the bipartisan and widespread support from all across the ideological spectrum.

It’s one thing for school choice foes to align themselves with a legislatively powerful electoral bloc, but another completely when they’re standing alone on an island blocking reform, while everyone else is willing to work together to bring about change. After all, as Hellen Keller once wrote, “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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