Education Week’s Sean Cavanagh is writing in a new niche blog, Charters and Choice. His post today on Michelle Rhee offers some new takeaways. First of those is that Rhee’s support for vouchers is limited:
I was curious about Rhee’s views on this topic, because, broadly speaking, she’s been a strong backer of school choice. She’s called for expanding charter schools, open enrollment for students across districts, and “parent trigger” proposals, which would allow parents to vote to convert struggling schools to charters. But her views of private school choice have received a lot less attention.
Rhee’s position also matters, because the education advocacy group she now leads, StudentsFirst, wants to become a major player in state education policy. Though Rhee is a Democrat, she says her group will support governors and lawmakers from either party if they share her group’s agenda.
In a recent interview, Rhee told me she supports targeted voucher programs, such as those that offer taxpayer funds to low-income students in academically struggling schools. But she said she sees more expansive, “universal” vouchers as misguided.
“I don’t think it makes sense to subsidize families who are already sending their kids to private schools, anyway,” she said. “I’m not a voucher proponent in the way that some people would want me to be. … This is not about choice for choice’s sake.”
I’d imagine that Rhee is being candid with the statement I emphasized above. Is she talking about Jeb Bush’s Florida privatization zealots? More from Rhee:
“When people talk about universal vouchers, first of all, I’ve never seen an economic model that actually made sense and laid that out in way that’s sustainable,” Rhee said. “I haven’t seen any kind of model that makes economic sense. … My support for vouchers is around a specific group of kids.”
“There are a lot of people out there who sort of believe, the free market, let the free market reign, the market will correct itself—give every kid a backpack with their money in it and let them choose wherever they want to go,” she added. “I don’t believe in that model at all.”
Rhee’s position on voucher issues may have seemed less-than-clear in late 2010, when she served on the transition team for newly elected Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott. That advisory group ended up calling for the creation of “education savings accounts,” an expansive voucher system that would allow students to use the vast majority of per-pupil funding at private schools—apparently without limits on families’ income eligibility.
But Rhee, through a spokeswoman for StudentsFirst, said that while she supported the overall direction of the transition team’s recommendations, she disagreed with its voucher proposal. Rhee conveyed her difference of opinion on that point to the governor, the spokeswoman said.
Two dominant policy figures were on Scott’s 2010 transition team: Rhee and Bush’s lead policy mover, Patricia Levesque. Fresh of her DC tenure, Rhee’s focus at the time was duplicating her teacher evaluation system for the first time. Florida 50/50 model is just like her DC IMPACT System of which half relies on student test scores. At the time of her service for Scott, she had not yet started StudentsFirst. Bush and Levesque never met a privatization scheme they didn’t love – no matter how flawed or ill-advised. Scott’s voucher platform was theirs.
Rhee’s “this is not about choice for choice’s sake” probably makes Bush and Levesque bristle.