Chicago Tribune makes the case for school vouchers

Victor Joecks

IL State Sen. James Meeks (D)

The Chicago Tribune has a great editorial today on an education voucher proposal by Illinois state Sen. James Meeks (D) and how it would benefit students.

When state Sen. James Meeks asks fellow Democrats to give education vouchers to kids who attend some of the worst schools in Chicago, the legislators often tell him they don’t want to divert dollars from public education.

Meeks’ response: “If the public schools are not doing their job, why do you want to continue to reward them with money?”

Good question.

We have yet to hear a good answer.

Meeks is trying valiantly to shake up the status quo in public education, and we stand with him in that effort. He is pushing a solid plan to create a voucher program for Chicago. The Senate’s executive subcommittee on education is set to discuss the bill on Wednesday.

A discussion about vouchers always gets the hackles up. It prompts charges that proponents want to abandon public schools.

So we think it’s time to frame the question a little differently.

The Chicago Public Schools system isn’t failing for lack of trying. The system is in the midst of an ambitious and controversial effort – Renaissance 2010 – to give new options to children in the worst schools. Sometimes, that means taking the dramatic step of closing schools and opening new ones.

This week, President Barack Obama announced a $900 million plan to reward school districts that overhaul or close failing schools and send kids to new public schools.

We’re encouraged by the Chicago effort and applaud Obama’s aggressive approach to school reform.

But we ask: Why not do more of this, at less cost and with a much larger universe?

Illinois isn’t the only state that has public schools that are failing students. Just-released math scores in Clark County leave much to be desired.

First-semester results on the district tests for 2009-10 show 21 percent of high school students passed the Algebra 1 test while 43 percent passed the exam for Geometry.

Fortunately, the Nevada Policy Research Institute has a detailed study on a tax-credit program that would allow parents to choose schools for their children and save Nevada $1 billion in the next 10 years.

Vouchers or tax credits would each allow parents to select the best school for their child and force schools to improve in order to attract students. And the children of Illinois and Nevada all would benefit from adopting one of these reforms.

(h/t Greg Forster at Jay P Greene’s blog)