Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Blogger Archpundit misses the mark on Jack Ryan and School Vouchers.

Blogger Archpundit (archpundit.com, archives, March 23, 2004) claims that Jack Ryan’s [school voucher] proposals are unlikely to be very helpful [to minority voters]. Archpundit argues that this is because “small scholarships,” only help in Catholic schools, of which there are limited spaces.

There are several things wrong with Archpundit’s argument. For starters, when I have spoken with Jack Ryan, interviewed Jack Ryan and heard Jack Ryan speak with others, he has not suggested “small scholarships,” a “pittance,” or only giving “an amount to cover [the cost of attending] Catholic schools.” So, where does Archpundit get the idea that Jack is proposing a “pittance,” for school vouchers? I don’t know. I have never heard Jack Ryan speak about school vouchers in that way. But, if Archpundit has heard Jack Ryan speak that way, I hope he will tell us about that.

In May, 2001, I interviewed Jack Ryan for a “Public Affairs,” episode that aired later that month and clips of that show were aired again on Public Affairs in December, 2003. When the show was originally taped in May, 2001, the operating cost for the Chicago Public Schools (“CPS), was about $7,000 per year per student and the total cost per student, including capital costs, was about $9,000 per year per student. Currently, the corresponding figures are $9,000 and $11,000 per student, respectively.

In my May, 2001, interview, I asked Jack Ryan if he would support a $7,000 school voucher for every student in the City of Chicago and he said he would [It was my choice to use the operating cost figure, not Jack Ryan’s]. Although I have interviewed Jack more recently and he has said he still supports school vouchers, I did not ask if he would support the current higher figures for school vouchers [$9,000 or $11,000], but I have no reason to believe that he would not, and surely he does not appear to be wedded to dramatically lower school voucher figures, as Archpundit suggests.

On “At Issue,” [WBBM, 780 AM Radio], this Sunday, Jack Ryan suggested giving students who choose to accept a voucher less than the public school’s full cost of educating that student [including capital cost?], which addresses the argument that vouchers drain the public schools of funds, as such a voucher program would leave the public schools with more money for each kid who remained in the public schools than would be the case without school vouchers. Ryan was only given about the last minute of the show to discuss school vouchers, so “his proposal,” was not stated in detail, but he did refer to the students who left with the vouchers, as leaving, “say, $3,000,” behind, which is consistent with the numbers I discuss, above.

Moreover, when I have made similar school choice, school voucher proposals to State Senator Barack Obama over the years-- at least some of the time, Obama said he would consider whatever is on the table, including school vouchers, to improve what he agreed with me are “admittedly intolerable,” inner city public schools. However, when he became a U. S. Senate Candidate, Barack Obama modified that answer to exclude school vouchers as something he would consider to improve educational choices for those students who currently are in the CPS.

Further, Barack Obama gave no indication that the problem he had with my school choice, school voucher proposal was the $9,000 or $11,000 figure I was proposing per student. Instead, he argued that the ultimate result of initiating a voucher program would be “to reduce the options available for the hardest to reach kids.” [See Berkowitz “Public Affairs,” June 27, 2002 and July 24, 2003 interviews of Barack Obama, linked on the U. S. Senate Candidate link at the EricZorn.com home page]. Barack Obama did not elaborate on his support for that argument.

So, the problems that Archpundit raises about vouchers and Catholic schools don’t really apply to the vouchers that Jack Ryan is proposing and supporting. Moreover, Archpundit’s statement that there are limited spaces in Catholic schools is technically true but has little meaning for this discussion. Indeed, economics is defined as the allocation of scarce [or limited] resources among unlimited wants. So, any economic good, e.g., spaces in a Catholic school, a Montessori school, or an Archpundit school, is “limited.” What else is new?

Also, Jack Ryan has said that there are currently [that is, as of today] 40,000 spaces available in Catholic Schools, and I have no reason to doubt that figure. However, why take the static approach of Archpundit. If you give CPS parents purchasing power of $9,000 - $11,000 per student, there will be hundreds of thousands of new spaces in all sorts of private schools opening up to serve those parents’ kids in time for the fall, 2004 academic year. Indeed, those who oppose school vouchers, e.g., public school teachers’ unions, don’t worry that there will be too little competition from private schools, but too much.

Finally, as everyone knows who watches “Public Affairs,” I am fair and balanced. While I may support school vouchers, I endorse no candidates, Democratic or Republican, and therefore I am not endorsing either Barack or Jack. And, of course, I am not authorized to speak on behalf of Jack or Barack. I simply don’t like to see erroneous information tossed around, and I would also correct, and have corrected, those who make erroneous statements about Barack. I have had Barack on my show about seven times in the last five years, or so, (including his appearances as both a State Senator and as a Democratic Primary U. S. Senate candidate) and Jack twice in the last three years (as a potential Republican Primary U. S. Senate Candidate and as a Republican Primary U. S. Senate Candidate) and I look forward to multiple appearances from both as the general election campaign proceeds. Who knows- we might even discuss school choice, school vouchers.

Jeff Berkowitz can be reached at JBCG@aol.com