A defense of Scott Walker and universal choice from an unlikely source

In today’s Wall Street Journal, John O. Norquist, a former Democratic mayor of Milwaukee, defends an effort from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to eliminate the income threshold regulating entry to the Milwaukee voucher program, which currently is open only to low-income students. The threshold has had the effect, Norquist writes, “of isolating low-income students from other more affluent students.” By contrast, most Western nations have a much greater enhanced form of parental school choice, and their urban centers are economically and racially diverse as a result.

People with children and money don’t cluster outside European or Canadian cities to avoid sending their kids to school with the poor. And the poor who live in cities have the opportunity to attend public, private and parochial schools that are appreciated by a large cross section of parents.

American liberals have been reluctant to embrace school choice, fearing it will drain resources from government-operated schools. Yet isn’t it even worse to support a system that rewards concentration of the rich in exclusive suburbs segregated from the poor? Of course there are affluent people (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama come to mind) who enroll their children in urban private schools like D.C.’s Sidwell Friends, which still has some children enrolled from the choice program. Many more, including middle-class parents, would live in economically and racially diverse cities once school choice was universally available.

If expanded, Milwaukee’s choice program will demonstrate this to the whole country.

Opposition to Walker’s plan to expand the program has come in recent weeks from a stalwart defender of the school choice movement, Howard Fuller. While Fuller has supported raising the income limit of the Milwaukee voucher to include more moderate-income people, he said making the program universally accessible to students in all income levels “essentially provides a subsidy for rich people.”

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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit