Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Blagojevich, the Heartland and School Vouchers

Phylicia Lyons, Executive Director, Illinois School Choice Initiative at the Heartland Institute, and several fellow school voucher, school choice proponents met with Rev. Meeks for two hours last Tuesday. Participating at the meeting with Rev. Meeks, among others, were Phylicia; Lee Walker, President of the New Coalition for Economic and Social Change; John Norquist, former Mayor of Milwaukee; and the President of the Chicago Hope Academy. Rev. Meeks’ education advisor, Dr. Davis, who previously worked with Paul Vallas at the CPS, also participated by phone.

Rev. Meeks noted that he and his colleagues opted out of the public school system and “chose,” to send their kids to private schools. In light of the generally poor performance of the inner city schools, such as CPS, Meeks indicated he is willing to take a risk with school choice. Meeks asked-- how much worse can it get if parents have a school choice? In short, Lyons told me that Rev. and State Senator James Meeks believes all parents should have a choice of schools, and that is true especially for those who are low income. Meeks, Lyons said, is clearly open to school choice/ school vouchers.

Jeff Berkowitz: As you look at this tonight [May 22, 2006], any probabilities in terms of what probability that the [Blagojevich] Plan [to be discussed on May 23] would have a pilot program for school vouchers?

Phylicia Lyons: …60%...[and] it would probably cover 5 to 10% [of the Chicago Public School students]

Jeff Berkowitz: And, you think Rev. Meeks gets it in terms of school vouchers, school choice and part of the reason he gets it is the time that you and others spent with him during the last week?

Lyons: Yes, I think so. You know, he prefaced our conversation with the fact that he wanted to get more information [on school vouchers- school choice].
60% chance of Blago announcing today a pilot program of School vouchers-school choice? I don’t think so. But, to paraphrase Hemingway’s closing in “The Sun Also Rises,” it sure would be nice to think so. And, the Lyons-Meeks-Heartland Institute conversations could grow and then, well, perhaps, maybe, school vouchers-school choice someday in Illinois.