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Event Transcript
July 8, 2003

Will School Vouchers Be Good For D.C.?

HENRY OLSEN: As we all know, school choice is one of the most important educational issues that faces our country, and it is of particular importance in Washington, D.C., because of the crisis in the D.C. public schools.  As a result of that crisis there is an on-going proposal in Congress to establish a pilot voucher program here in the nationís capital.  This is a proposal, which, if the schedule holds, will be voted on in committee for the first time this week.  Weíre very glad to have here today several distinguished panelists to discuss the question: Will school vouchers be good for D.C.?

Our panel today is going to be moderated by Mr. David Brennan, whose interest in education was piqued in the 1980s when, as a manufacturing CEO, he discovered that a number of his employees did not have the skills necessary to hold the jobs for which he had employed them.

At the time, he handled this directly by forming learning centers (now life skill academies no longer limited to his employees), which provided both on-the-job training and educational experience for people without basic academic skills. Indeed, Mr. Brennanís life skills academies offer high school diplomas, not GEDs, to their clients.  Later, Mr. Brennan became active in the school choice movement by chairing then-Governor Voinovichís commission on school choice and was one of the leading, if not the leading, figure in spearheading the adoption of a school voucher program in Ohio.  This program ultimately became the testing ground for the constitutionality of school vouchers in the 2002 Supreme Court case Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris, where the Court issued its landmark decision that it was not contrary to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to include religious schools in a properly constructed voucher program.

Mr. Brennan will provide a short overview of our topic, introduce our four panelists, and then serve as moderator for the panel discussion.

DAVID BRENNAN: Iím going to make my introduction very brief so that we can proceed directly to our discussion.  On my far left is Linda Moody, who currently operates a day care center and who has been, until very recently, President of the D.C. PTA.  Her tenure lasted eight years and ended just this past June.

Our next panelist, Gerald Bracey, is a noted educator and researcher who writes a national column on education related topics.

Virginia Walden-Ford is Executive Director of D.C. Parents for School Choice.  She has been very, very active in the education reform movement in D.C., supporting both charter schools and school vouchers.

Our last panelist is Jay Greene, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Jay has spent much of his career researching the impact of various education programs, including charter schools and school vouchers. Dr. Greene is now director of the Manhattan Instituteís Florida-based Education Research Office.

In a nutshell, the essence of school choice is the empowerment of parents through educational options and the question is: should those options be expanded to include religious schools through a voucher program?

The basic difference between charter schools and school voucher programsóand here lies the controversyóis that vouchers can be used at religious schools.  The difference in definition of schools is really a funding difference. Government schools are directly funded by the government, operated by government employees.  Charter schools are funded by the government, operated by private interests. Private schools can be funded through vouchers and they are privately owned and privately operated; consequently the funding in this case becomes completely independent of government control. In voucher programs, parents exercise total control of funds and are the final arbiters of educational success. At a charter school, the state controls where the money goes based upon the number of students who choose to go there. You may say that this is a technical difference, but thatís the principal difference between those forms of educational reform.

As all of you know, D.C. currently has quite a number of charter schools and vouchers are being considered by Congress.  Why this is important will be part of our discussion today. As a matter of personal disclosure, I should say that I am certainly a proponent of empowering parents through vouchers, but the purpose of this morningís discussion is to hear the viewpoints of those who think this is a bad idea versus those who think this is a good idea.

Our speakers this morning will be, respectively, Jay Greene, Gerald Bracey, Virginia Ford, and finally Linda Moody. Iíve asked each of them to comment for only five to six minutes and then we will solicit questions from the audience.

JAY GREENE:  Good morning and thanks to all of you for coming here to listen to us talk about school choice and its potential impact on education in the District. 

When thinking about school choice in D.C., itís worth trying to put the debate into the context of the Districtís current public education system. The District now spends, among the 51 states or districts, the third highest amount per pupil.  If you look at the increase in spending over time, thereís been 140% increase in real inflation-adjusted expenditures per pupil in D.C. public schools over the last three decades.

A tremendous amount of resources have been directed towards educating children in D.C. public schools, so that now the amount per pupil, depending on how you count things, is approaching something around $12,000 per child. And yet, at the same time that D.C. is spending more per pupil than 48 other states and districts, D.C., schools are the worst performing among the 51 states or districts.

According to the most recent NAEP reading assessment among 8th graders, only 9% of D.C. public school children were performing at or above proficiency level. Indeed, 52% of the 8th graders in D.C. public schools were performing below the basic level on the 8th grade NAEP test.

We have a situation where we are putting a lot of resources into trying to improve educational outcomes in D.C., and yet the outcomes remain very poor. The question is: is there something else that we can do?  I think that we can all agree that schools need sufficient resources to do their job, but I think that we might also consider that it would be useful to provide schools with the incentives to use those resources effectively. The promise or potential of school choice is that it would provide schools with incentives to use their resources more effectively and improve the outcomes from the dollars that they already have to spend.

Thatís the theory. What does the evidence say so far on the effectiveness of school vouchers?  The evidence so far on school choice is fairly extensive if you compare it to research on virtually any other education policy.  That being said, I donít think that the research is definitive.  I donít think we know for certain what the outcomes of school voucher programs are and I think there still may be a lot more to be learned.  But, to date, we have a fairly large stock of evidence and the evidence is generally encouraging.  In general, we can divide the existing evidence into three groups related to three important questions.

The first question is, do school vouchers improve the outcomes for those who are able to attend a private school with a voucher? The second question is, do vouchers improve the performance of public schools that are facing the challenge of a voucher system? The third question is, what effect do voucher programs have on non-academic outcomes that are important to us when speaking about our education system? By non-academic outcomes I mean goals like integration and tolerance, i.e. civic values.  

Naturally, it would be very difficult to delve deeply into these three questions in five or six minutes, but let me summarize briefly the evidence on these three points.  Actually, I think Iíll just restrict myself to the first two questions and we can discuss integration and civic values during the question and answer period.

On the first question, does school choice improve outcomes for those who receive vouchers?  We have five random assigned experiments to help address this question. Now, itís really quite exceptional in an educational policy setting to have five random assigned experiments on a single policy or program, and random assigned experiments are very important because random assigned experiments are like double blind medical studies. That is, in these studies thereís basically a lottery, and some people by chance get the treatment, and some people by chance get the control. By utilizing this approach we are able to compare the outcomes of those who receive the treatment (vouchers) versus those who are in the control group (public schools) over time. And because only chance distinguishes which group people get into, it helps us to isolate the effect that the interventionóin this case school vouchersóhas on their outcomes.

We have five studies modeled along these lines.  These studies have been subject to various analyses by different groups as well.  The studies originate in Charlotte, NC, Dayton, OH, Milwaukee, WI, New York City, and D.C. Four of those programs are privately funded scholarship programs that function like vouchers. It should be recognized that the dollar amounts involved were quite small and so in some ways itís a little bit hard to extrapolate from such a low dollar amount to a voucher program that would be more generous.  But we also have the Milwaukee study, which was a publicly funded program.

Now there are all sorts of debates about exactly what the results of these five studies are, but a few things are clear. First, the results range from no effect to significant to positive effect. That would be the range that reasonable people infer as the results. There are no results of significant harm to students, so at the very least what weíre talking about are vouchers that cost a lot less per pupil than is spent in public schools and where the outcomes are at least as good. At least from the cost perspective, we see some encouraging results.

There is some disagreement about whether the benefits that are observed are restricted just to math, or perhaps include math and reading. We also have some disagreement about whether the benefits might only apply to African American students or are available more broadly to other ethnic and racial groups.  There also exists some disagreement about the extent of the statistical confidence you can have in these results.

But these disagreements, which can be inflated, especially by people interested in spreading confusion about the results, mask what is generally a positive story.  Basically, these are disagreements over the magnitude and range of positive effects of the programs studied.  Even the most recent dispute that entered into the papers with Princeton Professor Alan Krueger re-analyzing New York data, even there itís important to recognize that in his re-analysis he chose certain ways of measuring things like a studentís racial background and decided not to control for certain prior characteristics of students.  He had to have made these particular choices to come up with a positive estimated effect, but one that was not statistically significant.

In Krueger's re-analysis of the original study that Paul Peterson and William G. Howell performed he produced positive but not statistically significant results.  And Krueger was only able to make the statistical significance go away by defining race in a way that is prohibited by federal research standards and by including students with missing baseline testing data. In fact Peterson and Howell showed in their response to Krueger that of 120 different ways in which Krueger could have specified the model to account for race, missing data, and other background characteristics, 108 of those 120 different specifications would produce statistically significant positive results and all 120 produced positive results.

What weíre debating here, really, is just how high our confidence is in these results. Nonetheless, when we step back and look at the generally positive picture across all five studies, I think the results are quite encouraging regarding the performance of school voucher programs.

Now the second question is what effect do voucher programs have on public schools that are forced to compete?  We have two possible stories on this. One is that vouchers drain money and talent from public schools and therefore hinders their ability to improve. The other possibility is that choice provides incentives to public schools to improve in order to attract and retain students.  The evidence on this question is not quite as comprehensive as the evidence for the benefits school vouchers offer to participating students, but there are still a number of interesting studies, including some that Iíve done and others done by Caroline Hoxby, an economist at Harvard.

The basic evidence from all of these studies is that public schools are improving in response to competition from voucher programs. In no study that I am aware of is there any evidence that test score outcomes declined in public schools in as a result of vouchers.  There are no studies with negative outcomes for public schools and a number of studies with positive outcomes. Again, these results are not exhaustive, but the results are encouraging enough to think that it is worth trying larger scale experiments and seeing what the results of those experiments would be.

Ultimately, when we step back and look at the research that has been conducted thus far, and the generally positive results of that research, I think there is good reason to try something along these lines in D.C.  Clearly what has been tried to date in the public schools has not been working very well.  The district has been spending a lot of money and not getting the results that students and parents need.  I think that it is worth trying a pilot voucher program in D.C., to see if it produces similar results to what weíve seen in other experiments.  And I can think of no research to suggest that we should expect negative outcomes. Thereís no research that I am aware of to suggest that D.C. students would be hurt.  Neither those who participate in voucher programs nor those who remain in public schools would be hurt by virtue of a program of this type.  In conclusion, I think that the evidence we have thus far makes a pretty strong case for trying out a voucher program in D.C.


GERALD BRACEY: Jay Greene wrote in a May 16, 2003 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, and repeated here today, that none of the studies finds students harmed by receiving a voucher. Thatís not completely true.  Test scores in New York went down for ethnic groups other than African Americans in the first two years and they even went down for African Americans in Dayton, OH, in some grades.

Let me state for the record: in the course of my remarks Iím going to be referring loosely to the Peterson group, which is a group of researchers composed of Jay Greene, Paul Peterson, William Howell, Patrick Wolf, and David Campbell, who have done most, if not all, of these studies. These studies were reviewed recently by the GAO, at least three of them were, and the GAOís conclusion was, more specifically, that the New York study found greater improvements in math and reading achievements for African American elementary students using privately funded vouchers.  Vouchers in Dayton showed no significant improvement in reading or math test scores, and Washington D.C. vouchers demonstrated positive effects for African American students in the second year of the study.  The effects actually were negative in the first year, but these disappeared in the final year of the study.  No significant differences were found in any of the studies for students in other ethnic groups.

In New York, the positive effects occur only for African Americans.  Dayton, no positive effects in any group, and then you have the District, negative effects followed by positive effects, followed by nothing at all.

Reporting scores only by ethic groups though, is quite misleading because it carries with it the assumption that the improvements are pretty well distributed across grades, but they are not.  In New York, it was only the 6th grade that showed an improvement and it showed such a huge improvement, that when they averaged in the other grades, the impact of vouchers became significant.

In Dayton at the end of the second year, 3rd grade African American kids showed large gains. Those in 4th grade scored worse than public school kids, 5th grade voucher kids had large gains, 6th graders, small losses, 7th graders, large gains, and 8th and 9th graders, large losses. The inconsistency of the so-called reform thus produces a meaningless mess in Americaís heartland.

But this hodge-podge only came to light after another researcher asked for the data and then analyzed it not by ethnicity, but by grade and ethnicity. As to why African American kids received benefits from vouchers no one knows, not even the Peterson group.

The GAO study does mention the Krueger re-analysis that Jay talked about.  In his op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, Jay accused Professor Krueger of ďpoor research choices.Ē Actually, I would say it was the Peterson group who made the poor research choices. Krueger obtained the raw data from David Myers who was a co-investigator in the New York study with the Peterson group. Krueger found that it wasnít a small impact. Peterson had tossed out over 40% of the sample group because they lacked either prior test scores or some other background data.  There was no reason to do that.

You heard Jay just repeat if the study is randomized you donít have to worry about background factors.  In fact, Jay and Paul Peterson once wrote: ďanalysis of randomized experimental data does not require controls for background characteristics or test scores.Ē So why did Peterson toss out over 40% of the samples?  Because they didnít have some of the background information? Such controls are necessary only when one doubts that the experimental data are true and random. And we had no reason to doubt that in New York.

Krueger called attention to what he thought was a fairly peculiar definition of race.  If a child had a black mother and a white father, it was black. If it had a black father and a white mother, it was white.  Peterson defined race only by the ethnicity of the mother.  When Krueger added in the 40% of the children who had been kept out of the experiment, the voucher effect pretty well disappeared.

But I found Kruegerís analysis disturbing because thereís nothing in the published reports before Krueger to indicate that over 40% of the data in the Peterson study were missing. Or that race had been determined solely by the motherís race.  Which leaves us to wonder what donít we know about some of these other studies where the data have not been made available to other researchers.

I would note that while both and Jay and Paul Peterson have defended their New York data, David Myers of Mathmatica called Kruegerís report ďa fine interpretation of the results.Ē  Myers said of the New York study, ďit is not a study Iíd want to use to make public policy.Ē  For their part, Howell and Peterson accused Krueger of ďrummaging theoretically barefoot through data in hopes of finding desired results.Ē  Pretty image, but not right. So much for New York, on to Milwaukee, which is a mess.

Jay and Peterson found a positive outcome for vouchers there.  Other researchers have been unable to replicate that effect and voucher advocates in Wisconsin decided to quell the controversy by killing funding for any more evaluations.

I think the most disinterested and objective analysis of Milwaukee was one done by Cecilia Rouse at Princeton and she found a positive outcome, gained from mathematics, which Jay includes in his summary, but no positive outcome for reading, which he does not. She also found that low-income students in small classes in public schools gained more than the voucher students in the private schools. And I would note in passing that itís much easier to manipulate mathematic scores than reading scores in the elementary grades because you can drill the kids to death on simple operations.

About Charlotte, I have really nothing to say. Jay said he found positive results.  I would like to know why the project only lasted one year given the changes from year to year in some of the other studies.

It is significant, I think, that Jay did not mention Cleveland in his op-ed defending the Peterson study or here in his summary. That program, as I mentioned earlier, was created by David Brennan, who manages some of these voucher schools for profit.  Maybe Jay failed to notice it because it doesnít support the idea that vouchers work.

The kids in Cleveland public schools started out with test scores lower than those of students using vouchers. At the end of Grade 3, the reading gap had been narrowed from 14 points to three. In mathematics, the public school children had actually overtaken the voucher program, and the language arts gap also narrowed.  The most recent evaluation from the Indiana University evaluation team noted ďthe most recent results do not reveal any significant impact with participation in the voucher program on student achievement.Ē  So vouchers in Cleveland are constitutional, but ineffective.

In spite of this, I have to point out, Mr. Brennan and lobbyists for The Catholic Conference of Ohio at the Ohio legislature recently, literally in the dark of the night, increased funding for the program by $10.5 million.  And where does all this funding come from?

Well, in Cleveland and Milwaukee, it comes from public treasuries. In the other cities, it comes from groups such as The Children First Foundation or The Childrenís Scholarship Fund, and if one goes to those websites and examines the websites, one finds a murderers row of right wing organizations which have the avowed aim of killing the public school system in this country. At Children First America, on whose board Mr. Brennan sits, there are 23 such organizations listed as links. No mainstream organizations and God forbid, certainly no liberal organizations, whatever they might be.

I think if I were black, I would want to know why all of these very rich, old, ideologically right wing white men, who opposed affirmative action and who, aside from vouchers, have generously funded a whole variety of right wing activities, are now so concerned about my kidís welfare.

Hereís a possible answer.  With the voucher legislation and ballot initiatives of the 1980s failing, voucher proponents embraced a new strategy adopting the language of the civil rights movement and targeting the African American community.  Greater hypocrisy would be hard to imagine.  And where does the money come from for evaluations? Well, it comes from the same people who brought you the vouchers.

Over and over, the reports from the Peterson group list support from, I believe, The Bradley Foundation, The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, The Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, The John M. Olin Foundation, and the Walton, as in WalMart, Family Foundation. John Walton alone has spent almost $1 billion in the last three years promoting vouchers.  Olin and Bradley and Walton have not only graced the Peterson Group, they have graced Peterson alone with $5.4 million. They also paid Charlie Murray $500,000 to write The Bell Curve and fund it with more than $2 million.  David Horowitzís Center for the Study of Popular Culture, from which Horowitz once opined that blacks should be grateful for having been enslaved in America, is funded by similar sources.

There are other criticisms I have that time doesnít permit discussion of, such as the high attrition rate in the voucher programs and the failure of many of the voucher kids to actually show up for testing because you canít force them.

In conclusion, the Bush Administration exhorts us to rely only on scientifically based research in education. The phrase, scientifically based research, appears more than 100 times in The No Child Left Behind legislation. Yet the Bush Administration is willing to put up large sums of money, $15 million, $75 million, into a program that helps private schools and harms public schools, especially the schools that can least afford to be hurt, a program for which scientifically based evaluation efforts clearly does not support.  The question would have to be, why?  Thank you.

DAVID BRENNAN: Thank you, Gerald. We now have heard two very different interpretations of the extant statistics on school vouchers, and, to say the very least, some very pointed disagreement on meaning of those statistics. Undoubtedly, that disagreement will continue for quite a long time.

The next important question to be addressed is how do voucher programs effect parents and families?  Our next two speakers are both eminently qualified to address that issue.

Virginia Walden-Ford, as I mentioned earlier, is the Executive Director of D.C. Parents for School Choice. Underlying this discussion this is the basic concept that a choice, whether vouchers or charters or anything else, would not exist if parents didnít want these options. No one forces children to go new schools.  There must be something good about these schools or they wouldnít be prospering in the way that they are.

VIRGINIA WALDEN-FORD:  Good morning.  I thought long and hard about what I would say this morning, and how I would present a parentís perspective on school vouchers; ultimately I decided to present my own experience as a parent.

My son, in the 9th grade, was failing in public school.  He received a private school scholarshipóeffectively, a voucher.  It turned his life around.  A lot of people ask me what difference the private school made. In his own words, he felt safe in this school, he felt cared for.  He felt that his teachers were actually putting time into making sure that he learned.  Thatís a significant change.

You have to look into the faces of the parents in public schools to know the importance of that change. I truly believe that had it not been for a private school scholarship my son, who is now in the United States Marine Corps doing incredibly well, would have had a bleak future.

We really believe that vouchers will benefit children in D.C., and this is what we hear from parents.  I started working with D.C. Parents for School Choice about six years ago and thereís never been a time in the six years that Iíve been educating parents about school vouchers, and talking to them about educational alternatives, that we havenít had scores of parents call in inquiring about what they can do to improve their childrenís education.

Most people have no idea what itís like to be trapped in a poor performing school and to not have any choice about where to send your children. It is a nightmare not to have any alternatives, and watch your child go to a failing school, day after day, and know that that child is not getting the education that he desperately needs.  We have spent a lot of years, those of us who are advocates for school choice, promising D.C. parents that we would make a difference. We promised parents that we would do something that will work for their children. That we would give them a better chance.

We donít want to batter the traditional public school system, but the fact of the matter is that they have not done what they needed to do to effectively benefit the children of Washington, D.C. We can no longer, as advocates or activists, go out and tell parents, that there are only enough scholarship funds for about 100 children. This year the Washington Scholarship Fund gave out 100 scholarships, for which they had 1,000 applicants. After the scholarships were all given out, they told parents to call D.C. Parents for School Choice and ask us to help them find some other alternatives.  We sent them to charter schools, but the charter schools are full.  In truth, the better of the charter schools have long waiting lists. Those parents called us back and the saddest day of my life is when I when have to tell them, I donít know what more you can do.  I donít have a clue. I donít know what you should do with your child now.

This is one of the reasons that I think that vouchers, particularly through the legislation before Congress now, will benefit our families.  Our families have nowhere else to go. And we canít keep telling them that the traditional public school system is going to fix itself.  It may eventually fix all its problems, perhaps in a few years. But what are these parents going to do right now? They have nowhere else to go and weíre going to lose this generation of children. We may have the school system that weíve been looking for in the next five or ten years, but what about the kids in school now?  What can you offer them now, other than failure in the public schools?

I had an Assistant Superintendent of D.C. public school tell me once that they were concentrating their reform efforts on K through 5, and that K through 5 really going to turn around and serve the needs of children, and right at that moment when he told me that, I had a child in 9th grade.  So I said, well, thatís great but what about to my 9th grader?  He had no answer for me. He had been talking a lot that day and he was totally silent.

The real question is what will happen to the children who will not benefit from the next public school reforms? We have all seen, through No Child Left Behind and other efforts, some movement in D.C. public schools, but itís not fast enough to help our families.  Despite everything that will be done in the future, our families, our children, are suffering now.

I spent the last week talking to one mother who is just frantic about what to do with her child. She has called six charter schools; theyíre all full.  She is a low income, single mother, has no additional resources other than, I think, TANIF, and she doesnít know what to do with her child. Needless to say, the public school in her community is having a lot of difficulties, to say the least. She calls me every day and asks me, ďVirginia, what am I going to do? I canít send him back to where he was.Ē  Thatís the problem that the researchers, the politicians, and everybody else donít see. 

They donít see the tears of parents and the children that are clearly behind in school.  And they donít see the pain that those parents go through. They donít see the hopelessness and helplessness that parents feel. They donít see children graduating from high school who can barely read.

I have had men, 30-year-old men, come to me and ask me to help them learn to read. We shouldnít have to see that. These are the faces that the media never sees, but we see them.  We see them every day.  I go home every day knowing that if this voucher program doesnít pass through Congress weíll still have nowhere to send the parents.  And weíll have another generation of adults who need to learn to read after they graduate from public schools.

When my son got a private school scholarship, his life changed.  It felt good, it felt real good, to see a child who has been brought home by the police and was making straight Fs, I assure you, straight Fs, make Bs and Cs. It was nice to see him happy in school and engaged and excited about going to school. I had never seen that before and I decided then that no other mother, single or married or otherwise, should ever have to feel the way the way I felt before my son received his scholarship.

To think that your child is not going to succeed in society because he is not getting the education he deserves is a terrible feeling, and when you have no hope to hold on to then you feel like a failure as a parent.  Thousands and thousands of low-income parents are feeling that anguish right now.

So despite the statistics, and the rhetoric, and the arguments--despite everything--you have to see the faces of the parents and the children to know what really is at stake. And thatís what makes me believe that the more options we are able to offer parents in this city, the better off weíll be.  My ultimate dream is that everybody in this debate will eventually learn to work together; private schools, charter schools, traditional public schools, will all work seamlessly to benefit our children. Because thatís what this is all about. This is about nothing else than the children.

Yet, when we get into a lot of these discussions, most people donít even talk about the children.  That really bothers me. Are we losing touch with who weíre doing this for? I never will.  I know exactly who I do this for and I take a lot of abuse from people because I do support school choice so much.  But if everyone could look into the faces of the children and parents the way I do every day, we would not be seeing the kinds of debates that we are having here today.

I would like to close with a few words from some parents I know, with their permission.  One of the parents is Sherine Robinson.  Sheís a single mother of two children who is currently unemployed and struggling. Her children are both bright, wonderful children, and Sheree was told by her public school teacher to get her kids out of the public school they were attending because they were too bright for that school and wouldnít get what they need from that school.  She called and asked me: where do I send them?  She said, ďitís not easy to find a good school for your children.  Parents should not have to worry about guns and knives in school and you shouldnít have to fight for your child to learn. All parents should have a choice.  And vouchers would help give us a chance to extend our search for the best schools possible.Ē

Another parent that we talked has five children, four in traditional public schools and one not in school yet. One child has special needs that are not being met in pubic school.  This is a woman who is a single mother and who doesnít have a clue what to do with her kids.  Her name is Earline Spears, and she said to me ďI would love for my children to attend a private school in my community. Because I believe that they would get a better education. I want the chance to choose what is best for them.Ē

Thatís what I see. And thatís why I fight.  Thank you. 

DAVID BRENNAN: Linda Moody will be our last panelist. Ms. Moody was, until very recently, President of the D.C. PTA.

LINDA MOODY: Good morning.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak this morning.

I try not to listen too closely to Miss Fordís comments because I become very saddened by them.

There are parents out there that we will never, ever reach, who donít know what to do with their children. Indeed, some children go all the way to the 9th grade and their parents do not know how to help them.  That saddens me.

Why not, at kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, why do we not know at that point how to help our children move forward?  Let me back up because I donít want to get into responding to  statements. I would rather talk about what I came here to say.

First of all, Iím the proud mother of two D.C. public school children. Oneís an international opera singer, and my other child is a married mother of four who has her own desktop publishing business. She went to school in supposedly the poorest ward of the city, Ward 8, which is where we live. My point is that you do not have to become determined by the environment that you live in.

I am the grandmother of five children and the foster mother to 28 children.  But Iím also a public school advocate.  I am adamant that D.C. public schools can provide the services that we need.  My children went to school in D.C. public schools.  I chose where they went to school because we do have choices.

I had one child in a private school for one year.  I took her out because I was seeing the same disciplinary problems there that I was getting in D.C. public schools.  I moved her because I said to her, wherever you are, you will learn because I will be there to help teach. I removed her because I didnít want to pay for something that my tax dollars give me for free.

Parents need to understand you cannot just drop your child in a classroom and expect someone to teach them if they have not done what they were supposed to do. Parents have to cultivate, motivate, discipline and reinforce what the teacher teaches in the classroom.

Citizens in this city have overwhelmingly said no to vouchers. Citizens recognize private schools donít have to take you and if they do, they can send you back faster than you came.  Public schools must take all children.  We canít leave anybody out. Citizens in this city recognize that if are really so interested in all children and putting children first, you must make a very special effort to fund the schools where childrenóall childrenómust go.  Those are our public schools.

In the District of Columbia, our schools are funded by a formula.  If I could get the full $12,000 that Jay says we get for each child in D.C., we would have a much better school system. Our budget is based upon the actual numbers of children who are enrolled in D.C. public schools. Vouchers go to students of free and reduced lunches. How do we get those parents to get their children to a school across town, to a private school?  Vouchers will only allow us to attend mostly Catholic schools, at $2,500 to $7,500 per person, not your Ivy League private school.

Voucher bills allow no extra funding for special needs children. The largest draw on the public school system is special education. The D.C. public schools will still carry the burden in terms of special education.  Now, rather than improve public schools, vouchers would abandon them by diverting immediate resources from our schools and will ultimately condemn them to failure, leaving thousands of children behind.  Vouchers are not wanted in D.C. The citizens of the District and their elected representatives have clearly expressed their opposition to publicly funded voucher programs.  A survey conducted in November of 2002 found that three-quarters of the District voters oppose private school vouchers.

Vouchers are not needed in D.C.  There is no solid evidence that vouchers improve student achievement, as you heard from Dr. Bracey today. The academic achievement of African American students who use a privately funded voucher to attend private schools in D.C., were not consistently higher over three years than that of students who remain in public schools.

And I want reply to Dr. Bracey, that I have asked myself that question many times, why do these people want to do this for the District of Columbia residents?  I also ask why do they want to do this or not want to do this for the parents who are drug addicts? For the parents who are mental patients? For the parents who donít know how to help their children?  How do you plan to reach those parents? Donít forget them. Thatís who you claim youíre trying to help. But nobody is helping them. 

Vouchers will not expand every parentís options. A voucher will not necessarily expand the options currently available to parents, and here I mean public school choices available to every child in the District.  We offer more charter schools per capita than any other school district in the nation. Vouchers could authorize federally funded discrimination.  Private schools participating in a voucher program could be permitted to discriminate in admissions and in employment on the basis of religion.

Vouchers lack accountability.  Accountability is the cornerstone of education reform authorized under the No Child Left Behind Public Law; to send public funds to schools over which the public has no oversight is inconsistent and violates the principals of The No Child Left Behind Act.

Iím also a member of the National PTA Board of Directors.  The PTA, from across the country, sees that vouchers anywhere are a threat to public education everywhere.  The National PTA opposes vouchers because they divert public funds to private schools that are not accountable to the public, do nothing to improve public education, have not been proven effective at raising student achievement and do not expand current educational options.

A D.C. voucher program would be financed with federal funds that would otherwise have been available to public schools.  The federal government should not be reducing the already scarce resources it allocates to meet the obligations of public schools and public education in order to subsidize private schools.  Imposing a voucher program on the District of Columbia violates the principle of local control of education. The citizens of the District have not sought and do not want this program.  A voucher program in the District of Columbia could establish the federal bureaucracy that could easily be expanded to become a national voucher program.

D.C. schools are improving without vouchers. Test scores released June 26 of this year reveal that achievements in both reading and math have increased in most grades. System-wide averages are comparable to those in other large urban cities and districts.

Thank you.

DAVID BRENNAN: Thank you, Linda.  I must, at least in self-defense, answer the questions raised by both Ms. Moody and Dr. Bracey as to why people such as myself are interested in voucher programs.

I have the pleasure of knowing people from all over the country who are deeply interested in educational reform for our children, and Iím going to tell you what they all believe and in what I believe.

We believe that if we donít fix the education system in our nation our society is doomed.  We all know that.  We all see it.  Each one of us is a beneficiary of a great society that has made it possible for us to prosper.  The young people of America today wonít have that chance unless this problem is solved and solved soon.

The way to solve this problem is to bring to bear the basic principles of our society. Our Founding Fathers came to this country to achieve freedom from government oppression. Freedom of educational choice is just as much a part of that vision as choosing oneís religion or oneís career.  We believe that parents should be empowered to make their own choices about what happens to their children, and not somebody else. Thatís the core belief and concern of the people trying to help grow the school voucher movement. Iím proud to be part of it.  And Iím proud to be trying to help parents make their own decisions.


Center for Civic Innovation.



Many D.C. children are getting a poor education and are being left behind. On July 8th the Manhattan Institute convened a panel discussion featuring leading educational researchers, as well as proponents and opponents of school choice from D.C. and across the country, to explore the impact and potential of school choice on the District's public schools and students.

Introductory Remarks:

Henry Olsen, Executive Director, Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute


David Brennan, Chairman, White Hat Management, LLC


Jay P. Greene, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute

Gerald W. Bracey, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Graduate School of Education, George Mason University

Virginia Walden-Ford, Executive Director, D.C. Parents for School Choice

Linda Moody, President, D.C. Congress of Parents and Teachers

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