An Interview with Herb Walberg: Voucher Bills and Their Impact

Mar 4, 2013 by

Herb Walberg

Herb Walberg

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1)Herb, I have known and followed your work for years. I understand that you are now with the Heartland Institute. How did this come about?

About a dozen years ago I joined the Heartland Institute board. After a few years I was elected chairman of the board, although I have often contributed articles and books to the Institute and many times with the collaboration of Heartland’s president Joe Bast. Nearly all my writing for the Institute concerns K–12 education.

2) Now, what specific areas are you researching, or investigating?

Joe Bast and I are collaborating on a book about how financial and other rewards affect learning.

3) What is going on in Alabama and what implications does this have for the U.S.?

As I said on Heartland’s website, “This is an important milestone in school choice and bringing American schooling up to international standards. Congrats to pioneering Alabama.” As Joy Pullman explained on the website, “Giving kids the ability to depart a school that is failing them is not only an obvious win for kids, but one that four in five Republican and Democratic voters support. Tax-credit scholarships have also already saved taxpayers millions, because they give kids a better education for approximately half (or much less) of what taxpayers would have paid to educate each child who receives one.

“It’s been reported widely and erroneously the proposal is a voucher bill that would send tax dollars to private schools. Actually, tax credit scholarship money never touches state bank accounts, and instead goes directly from private pockets to private institutions. All the legislation does is make such donations tax-deductible, like donations to food banks or cancer research.”

4) Can you give us a summary of some of the school voucher programs across the U.S.?

The earliest programs were founded by wealthy individuals and firms to allow usually poor, urban children to go to parochial and independent schools. All or part of their tuition was paid, and they could leave badly run city school systems. Later, the state of Florida provided funds for children in public schools that were handicapped in one way or another to go to private special schools. These programs proved highly popular, and many families had to be turned away because of funding limitations.

Milwaukee’s vouchers were the first in the United States since state and local governments stopped funding private schools.

5) How did Alabama define “failing schools “?

I believe that Alabama defined failure as repeated poor test scores on state tests in several grades at the school.

6) Is anyone following the data when students in failing schools transfer to other schools? Or is this part of future planning?

There have been dozens of studies of students that transfer from failing schools to charter schools and parochial and independent schools, and I have summarize these in my book for the Cato Institute “ School Choice: The Evidence,” which the Heartland Institute distributed to all elected government officials in the United States.

7) Some students who leave “failing” public schools can now go to either private or parochial schools. Are there any strings attached in terms of tax dollars?

There is considerable variation in what is been proposed in a number of states, but the tuition offered for reimbursement typically would be less than what the public school costs to taxpayers are, which means a cost savings for them.

8) I remain concerned that some students with special needs ( for example , a learning disability ) may not get the intensive services in the private sector that they may need- your thoughts?

We do not have completely definitive research on this question, but much research suggests that special needs children are often misdiagnosed and poorly served in public schools. The largest survey to my knowledge concerned the Florida program mentioned earlier, which yielded high levels of parental satisfaction with the education their special needs children were getting in private schools.

If you are interested in how vouchers impact special needs students, please look up the research of Jay Greene and Marcus Winters.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

If you would like my views on points not mentioned above, you can consult the Heartland.org website and the book mentioned above.

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