FACT: In the three states that have publicly funded voucher programs, state officials embraced vouchers long before they pursued other approaches.
In The New Republic (March 18), Jeffrey Rosen states that voucher plans "were adopted largely as a last resort" to help struggling students in urban schools. But calling vouchers "a last resort" assumes that all other approaches have been tried and have failed. This is simply not the case. Whether it's providing the resources that struggling schools need, reducing class sizes or initiating other reforms, the three states with private-school voucher laws have either neglected other, more sound approaches-or have pursued them with limited enthusiasm.
While Florida has enacted the A+ and McKay voucher programs, the Sunshine State has not adequately addressed class size and funding issues. For example, the state's per-pupil funding for public schools has increased by less than two-tenths of 1 percent over the last three years.16 Adjusted for inflation, the state's per-pupil funding has actually fallen. When Education Week released this year's "Quality Counts" analysis of the 50 states, Florida ranked a dismal 44th in providing adequate resources to its public schools.17
When Ohio enacted the Cleveland voucher program, the state's Supreme Court had already found Ohio's public school funding formula to be unconstitutional. Today, many years after the court first ruled the funding formula unconstitutional, Cleveland and other low-income districts continue to suffer. State leaders have failed to act responsibly.18 When asked last year how the legislature planned to comply with the Ohio Supreme Court's rulings, state Senate President Richard Finan was defiant: "I say, let the court figure it out."19
Wisconsin, as noted earlier, has an excellent program that reduces class size in the early elementary grades. The Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program is having a major impact in public schools, helping to close the achievement gap between white and minority students. Consider how many additional low-income children could have benefited if SAGE had received an additional $61 million-the amount spent by Wisconsin officials from 1998-99 to 1999-2000 on the Milwaukee voucher program.20 Instead of pouring money into the unproven "last resort" of vouchers, the state should be investing much more in proven programs such as SAGE.