Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Vouchers recognize the fact that one type of school doesn't fit all students' needs
by Lisa Baron

I was 99.9 percent sure my mother liked my brother Scott better than the rest of us. I made that declaration at the insightful age of 8 regardless of the complete lack of proof. Yet even under a constant barrage of questioning, she didn't buckle. "I love you all the same," she said with a laugh. "You expect me to believe that?" I shot back, climbing out of her arms. I left her with this warning, "I am so on to you".

And then one day I got the evidence I needed for an open and shut case of Mom v. Me. I learned that, apparently, public school was not good enough for little Scotty. Because while the rest of us were brown-bagging it to Madison No. 1 in Maricopa County, Arizona, my parents decided to send Scott to private school. A-ha! Finally, the truth!

Not only did she like my brother better, it was clear she also hated me.

I loved hurling my pitiful self around the house in dramatic agony, moaning over being less loved. Who couldn't feel sorry for a child who, through no fault of her own, was born into a family that didn't care about her future? I lived to be the victim.

Kind of like what Georgia Democrats are doing right now in response to Sen. Eric Johnson's Universal School Voucher Bill aka Senate Bill 90. Dems are not outraged, they are orgasmic. They feign the same disgust I did when Mom sent Scott to Phoenix Country Day, but behind closed doors they're high-fiving at being able to once again demonize Republicans. It gives them a big dripping piece of red meat to hold high for the entire world and to validate what they've been saying about Republicans for so long: They're child-haters.

Here's how the Georgia voucher system would work: Parents who believe that their children would benefit from a public school other than the one they are assigned to will earn a "voucher" equivalent to transfer their child to another public or private school. They would earn a voucher equivalent to what it costs the state to educate one student i.e.: $5,000. Any Georgia parent (not just white Southern Baptist parents) can choose to transfer their child to another public school - but only if the school district chooses, or more precisely, can accept the child. This means that not every child in the state can all be enrolled at Sarah Smith Elementary School.

But is all this whining by voucher opponents much ado about nothing?

Former President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind Act?" stipulates that any school that receives a "in need of improvement" over a five year period must be 'restructured."

That means simply, if the school is failing, the feds will come in.

A universal voucher system allows concerned parents to take their children out of a failing school without having to wait five years to do something about it.

And what about the 2007 Utah voucher program that was signed into law and subsequently repealed by voter referendum?

Utah only allowed for its voucher to be used from a public school to a private school.

The term "universal" applied to its availability to every child not just those in failing schools or low-income homes.

Johnson's bill is different.

He uses the word "universal" and he means vouchers are available to every Georgia child for any Georgia school.

He understands that meaningful competition is not the enemy of success. It's the key to success.

We're not gambling with our children's future, we're investing in it.

In a recent Georgia Online News Service opinion piece, Executive Editor John Sugg brought up an important point. He argued that "there are some real other problems to consider about the possible outcome of Johnson's scheming."

Mr. Sugg goes on to mention that he worries, fairly, about what would happen if a voucher got into the hands of the wrong people such as white nationalist groups who set up schools to teach hatred.

I would argue that we can't afford to do nothing because we're afraid of what a few fringe bullies may or may not do. I have my own child to worry about it and I believe that there is far better that can come of this than bad.

But it's not just Sugg's comments that make me wince.

I wish Johnson didn't say "Georgia is a conservative state that understands the free market..." as a reason the universal voucher system will prevail in Georgia.

When I look at my 20-month old son and think about where I'm going to send him to school, I don't think. "Hmm, I'm a conservative Republican so where should I send my son to school?

Instead I think: "hmmm, I'm a concerned and loving parent, where is the best place to send my child, based on his specific needs."

This is the exact same reason my own mother used when she chose to send four us to public school and one to private. She looked at all five kids and determined one needed something different in order to thrive (she still swears that different doesn't mean better).

But I'm still not convinced she doesn't love my brother more, he did get to spend a high-school semester "studying" in Spain ...old habits die hard.

Lisa Baron is an Atlanta-based free-lance writer and regular television and radio contributor.   [full bio]

Editor's note: At the top of our Georgia news today is the first discussion of the proposed nuclear power plants that Georgia Power would like built. One of our Capitol reporters Maggie Lee spoke to several representatives from around the state, sat in on today's committee hearing, and files her report. In yesterday's Green Sheet, she reported on Gov. Perdue's proposal to revamp the state's transportation agencies, and today Lyle Harris writes about why he thinks it's all a bad idea that's years too late.

Two recurring but disparate discussions are also on today's Green Sheet: school vouchers and the way history views the tragic deaths of Leo Frank and Mary Phagan.

As always, we'd like to hear from you. GONSO is an enterprise founded and staffed by more than two dozen leading journalists and media executives in Georgia. We're providing content free -- for a limited period. Newspapers, broadcasters, bloggers and websites are welcome to use our articles -- please credit the writers and the Georgia Online News Service.

Send your comments and any story ideas to executive editor John Sugg at You can also call us at 800-891-3459.

Today's GONSO

More nuclear power in Georgia? It's 'pro America,' sponsor says

by Maggie Lee
Georgia state representatives took their first look Wednesday at a controversial bill that would raise Georgia Power bills and will soon decide if the state has more nuclear power in its future.
Full Story

Gov. Perdue's Transportation Shuffle

by Lyle Harris
Creating a new transportation agency is an idea that's years too late. Only by addressing the severe lack of transportation funding will allow Georgia to confront its severe transportation challenges.

Full Story

View to a Georgia Kill: A New Book Looks at Leo Frank on Film

by David Lee Simmons
It was a long time ago. But it hasn't gone away. An Emory University film scholar has written a new book that examines just where fact, fiction and debate converge in the true-life story of the deaths Leo Frank and Mary Phagan.

Full Story


Vouchers recognize the fact that one type of school doesn't fit all students' needs

by Lisa Baron
Are school vouchers the state's way of playing favorites? In her first column for GONSO, Lisa Baron says government has an odd way of imitating family life.

Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
Georgia Power Ties Nuclear Option to SB 31; Others Consider Alternatives
by Maggie Lee
Georgia's Legislative Black Caucus at a Critical Political Crossroads
by Maynard Eaton
A Hope Program for Transportation
by Michael Dobbins

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