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  • Originally published 02/08/2013

    Barbara J. Miner: The Meaning of Choice

    Barbara J. Miner is a Milwaukee-based journalist who has covered education for more than 20 years. She is author of the newly released book Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City (New York: New Press)....Before the mid-1990s, the term “failing schools” was all but nonexistent. It certainly, for instance, was not applied to Jim Crow-era segregated black schools in the South that could not even afford desks.What’s more, the first use of vouchers was not by poor black parents but by whites hoping to escape desegregation. From 1959 until 1964, when federal courts intervened, officials closed all the public schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia rather than comply with orders to desegregate. White parents took advantage of publicly funded vouchers to attend a newly created private, whites-only academy.Such an association between vouchers and white supremacy is not useful to today’s voucher advocates. Instead, vouchers have been repackaged as a way to improve academic achievement and to expand parent “choice.” But after more than 20 years, one of the clearest lessons from Milwaukee is that vouchers, above all, are a way to funnel public tax dollars out of public schools and into private schools. Vouchers, at their core, are an abandonment of public education....