Keiffer Mitchell to Back Vouchers?

At a recent symposium hosted by United Citizens for Maryland’s Future,1 state education Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick rhetorically asked, “Should any student, by accident of where he lives, have to attend a failing school?” Having solicited the requisite negative nods from the audience, Dr. Grasmick went on to describe how the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) now shines the light of day on bad public schools. Logic is missing here. While MSPAP allows Marylanders to quantify exactly how abysmal their schools are, the test does nothing to rectify the situation whereby thousands of children do, by accident of where they live, have to attend failing schools. The answer of course is not to quantify just how bad the schools are but, rather, to let the children leave them. Give them a choice.

The Baltimore Sun reports that hundreds of Baltimore City children daily are forced into subterfuge, using phony addresses in Baltimore County in a desperate attempt to get a decent education.2 The county employs special officers to root our these kids and send them packing. Instead of fighting this losing battle, the educational market should be allowed to prevail.

There are signs of hope. Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke’s Task Force on Parental Choice has come out against full school choice, including vouchers for use at private schools (though the task force does favor open enrollment for public schools in Baltimore City). Nonetheless, Loyola Professor Donald Reitz’s dissenting opinion in the task force’s report makes a powerful case for school choice. And speaking at the same symposium as Dr. Grasmick, UMBC Professor George La Noue, another member of the task force, noted the current inequity of the public school system. “If you’re connected enough and obnoxious enough, you’ll get choice,” he said, otherwise you will not. Privately, other members of the task force are sympathetic to the school-choice cause. One task force member told Calvert News that, as soon as the Supreme Court clears up the constitutionality of school vouchers, he would like to reopen the issue. For now, he said, he had been lucky to coax some on the task force into accepting even limited reforms.

At the United Citizens symposium, Calvert News pointed out to task force chairman and Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell, Jr. that, in Maryland, about 90 percent of political contributions made by the state teachers’ association go to Democrats. Given his party’s dependence on teachers’ campaign money, would he be willing to take on the union and revisit the issue with a view to recommending choice, assuming the court found in favor of vouchers? “For myself,” said Mitchell, “I would definitely look into it…. My only concern [during the task force's deliberations] was transportation. Me personally, I would definitely look into school choice again [and] vouchers.”

The Supreme Court may this year decide upon the constitutionality of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Cleveland, Ohio school-choice experiments. If it upholds choice, Marylanders must hold Mr. Mitchell to his word.

End Notes

[Top] 1. United Citizens for Maryland’s Future, “Educational Excellence: Choices, Challenges and Change,” Loyola College, Baltimore, Maryland, January 25, 1997.

[Top] 2. Marego Athans, “City Parents Willing to Cross the Line for a Better Education,” (Baltimore) Sun, January 19, 1997, p. 1A.

Posted in: Education, News Series