The Corner

False Choices

E.J. Dionne is a marvelous guy who writes excellent books, but his newspaper columns often fall short. His column on school vouchers is a case in point. In the Washington Post he writes:

The debate over school vouchers usually brings out the worst in both of our political parties.

This is a long-running theme of Dionne’s. In “Why Americans Hate Politics” Dionne argued, often convincingly, that both major parties offered mostly “false choices” to voters. A pox on both their houses.

But in his column, Dionne offers his own false choices.

Republicans refuse to face the core problem these children confront. The quality of teachers and curriculums is much higher in wealthy suburban public schools than it is in poor, inner-city public schools. In a country where the overwhelming majority of children attend public schools, vouchers do nothing to rectify this injustice…

We need to spend money to upgrade the quality of teaching in our poorest schools and to demand accountability from teachers to make sure the money produces results. If conservatives were willing to invest seriously in our inner-city public schools in exchange for a comprehensive test of vouchers, I’d take the deal. I’m not holding my breath.

This is a false choice. As the Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn has demonstrated in his superb columns on choice, the correlation between dollars and educational quality simply doesn’t exist. It’s not to say money can’t be important. Of course it can be. But money is only one part of what matters to a child’s education. Either way, most conservatives would gladly advocate a spike – even a significant spike — in state funding for education provided the funds were immediately turned over to parents to decide what they want to do with it.

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