FL Vouchers…Victory Or Opiate?

The Florida Supreme Court has struck down that state’s flagship voucher program which allowed students at schools identified as persistently failing to attend private schools at public expense. Decision here (pdf). First the irony. Though this program has received a lot of attention there are a lot more students in the McKay special education voucher program (which has problems of its own).

The implications? Well, the pro-voucher crowd is outraged and the anti-voucher crowd is celebratory. Over at Boardbuzz they’re probably drunk and running around with no pants on right now.

But, no one should get too excited. That’s because although the Florida program had some problems, and Eduwonk’s skeptical about the promise of vouchers overall anyway, there was both political support and demand for this program. In other words, if in the haste to celebrate a legal victory (in a friendly venue no less) voucher opponents fail to recognize the more basic lesson here then that’s bad news for public education. Any industry that has to rely on court decisions rather than loyalty to keep its customers is an industry in trouble over time. Consequently, there is a real risk in over-reading what this decision (and the similar one striking down Colorado’s voucher program) mean over the long term. Without some real improvements this issue is not going away at all.

Besides, there are real problems for a lot of kids in Florida’s schools anyway, so celebrating seems a little obscene regardless what one thinks of the voucher program.

Update: Outstanding write-up of the case by Ed Week’s Richard. Just about all you need to know.

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