Nathan Sass

Sacrificing Kids on the Altar of Politics

In Politics, School Choice, Scott Walker on June 21, 2013 at 6:00 AM

(Note: the names in the following have been changed to protect the innocent.)

“Jimmy” is 7 years old.  He is an intelligent and vibrant young man, who also happens to suffer from a Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, and an Anxiety Disorder.  In fact, the therapists and specialists are in the process of evaluating Jimmy for Asperger Disorder.  That hasn’t stopped Jimmy from showing his tremendous intellect.  He loves science, and probably knows more about the planets at age 7 than most adults ever will.

What has gotten in Jimmy’s way the most has not been his diagnoses, but the utter incompetence of the public school system, the greed of the teachers’ unions, self-serving politicians, and the (likely unconstitutional) discrimination by the State of Wisconsin because of about 100 yards of open field behind his home.

Like any 7-year-old, Jimmy has no control over his address, his household income, or his disabilities.  Jimmy’s mom and dad, “Karen” and “Charlie”, purchased their home 2 doors down from Karen’s parents before Karen was pregnant with Jimmy  They chose this home because Karen’s parents could help raise their grandchildren.

Little did Karen and Charlie know that choosing a home that fostered a close and supportive family network would sentence them to substandard treatment at the hand of a school district, their elected officials, and the State of Wisconsin itself.

You see, Jimmy lives in Greenfield, only 100 yards of open field south of the City of Milwaukee.  He lives in the Greenfield School District.  Therefore, he attended  the public school about 4 blocks from his home.  This is a very well-funded and well-appointed school (they get $10,000 +  per student in tax money every year).  From the outside, it looks like a great school.  Despite the externals, though, the public school’s administrators and teachers appear – to Karen and Charlie, at least – either unable or unwilling to help a young man like Jimmy.

In the current budget debate, Democrats and some Republicans did all they could to continue to make life harder for people like Karen and Charlie, and the future less bright for kids like Jimmy

Jimmy suffers from social anxiety and ADHD, which is typical of children with Aspergers.  His parents had numerous discussions with his public school about his needs, but the school failed to address any of them.  He languished in the classroom and was regularly punished for behavior that was largely due to his disabilities.

A typical case of the public school’s attitude was displayed when Jimmy was hurt at school by an older kid while waiting in line to enter the building at the start of the day.  No one in the administration seemed to care much.  His bloody lip, anxiety and fear of being on the playground did not stop the “teachers” from doing what they always did before school – ignoring the kids on the playground while they huddled in their little gossip circle.

Pay attention?  That isn’t in their union contract.  Keep those kids out of their building until the contract says they have to have them in there.  Karen was forced to stay with Jimmy while Jimmy waited in line to go into school every morning.

Karen and Charlie, unwilling to allow an otherwise very intelligent boy to continue to be pushed aside, did what any good parent would.  They searched high and low for a school that would allow Jimmy to thrive.  They found it at a Lutheran school only blocks from their home.

The Lutheran school doesn’t have the fancy building, the elaborate playgrounds, the high tech toys in the classroom, or the huge facilities that the public school has.  What they do have is the ability to deal with Jimmy as a person with unique needs.  They also don’t get $10,000 per student, but seem to more than make it work.

The staff at the Lutheran school did what the staff of the public school was unwilling or unable to do.  They tailored their approach to Jimmy with an understanding of who he was.  They understood his challenges, and his blessings, and work with him to make the most of the good and minimize the bad.  Simply put, they cared.

Jimmy is now thriving, improving in social and educational areas by leaps and bounds, and has a very bright future ahead of him.

So there is the happy ending, right?

Wrong.

There is still the little matter of the State of Wisconsin’s attitude to Jimmy and his parents.

Some politicians are doing all they can to protect the public schools of the world, and are in effect telling parents: “We don’t care that public schools are destroying your child’s future.  Public schools know best and you are not allowed to decide they are substandard.  Send your kids there.  If you don’t like it, or if your child’s future is bleak, well that’s too damn bad.  The unions need money that they use to give to us for re-elecion.  To get that money, they need students, and we will damn well make sure they have them.”

That 100 yards I mentioned earlier is the distance between School Choice and no School Choice.  It’s the difference between financial hardship and financial stability.  It’s the distance between a”free” school that gives Jimmy the best shot in life and a “free” one that leaves him behind.

It’s the distance between Karen and Charlie’s home and the City of Milwaukee.  That 100 yards, the greed of the unions, and the desire for power of politicians, is what separates Jimmy from access to School Choice.

Many of Jimmy’s classmates are currently attending the Lutheran school via School Choice.  Their parents made the same decision that Karen and Charlie did, and put their children into a school that did not just see their children as a chunk of funding to be routed into the pockets of the teacher’s union and sell out politicians.

Because they live in the “right place”, they have access to assistance in making the most of their kids education.  If you don’t happen to live in the “right place” according to Madison, well, you can just suffer.

It is immoral and disgusting that a politician, especially a Republican, would fight so hard against a kid like Jimmy  They are beneath contempt in my personal opinion.  Their actions have no legitimate defense, logically or emotionally.

The recent “deal” in the Wisconsin Budget bill only makes the situation worse.  It caps the number of kids that can use School Choice at 500.  They are actually proud of this deal.  As if saying to families number 501 + “oh well, sucks to be you” is somehow justified.

These self-serving politicians are willing to literally sell out these children to appease the giant failed bureaucracy called “public schools” for the chance to get some nice fat donation checks from the unions who end up with a lot of that “public school” money in the end.

Parents like Karen and Charlie did not just choose to leave the public school.  That public school literally failed them, and left them no alternative.  They left because they had to.  They have had to sacrifice in time and money to get Jimmy in a school that did what the public school was supposed to do – teach him.  If the public school was not so incompetent, Karen and Charlie would not have decided to spend the money to go elsewhere.  Yet Karen and Charlie are still required to pony up tax money to fund the school that failed them and their son.

Yup, they get to pay for school twice.  Once for one that failed them utterly and again for one that doesn’t.  Kinda like being forced to continue to pay for a busted cell phone for the privilege of paying for another one that works.  Only government could justify that idiocy.  If AT&T tried that, they would be broke in 3 days.

We are told over and over again that School Choice is bad because it will take funds away from public schools that are the only ones capable of dealing with special needs children.  Jimmy’s experience exposes the utter emptiness – even lunacy –  of this argument.  Public schools have proven incapable of teaching “regular” kids…why should we believe they teach “special” kids any more effectively?

It is well past time that Republicans grow an actual spine and fight for full, unrestricted access to School Choice regardless of location, economic circumstance or anything else.  I am all for public funding of education, but that should not require public administration of it.

What the teachers’ unions fear is that once parents have this choice, it will seal their doom.  Their free rides and cushy jobs with low expectations will evaporate and they might just have to actually be effective.  God forbid!!!

To the anti-School Choice people I ask:  If public schools are so much better, so much more capable, so much more effective, why are you so afraid of private schools that you claim are less effective or capable?  If public schools are so awesome, they will not lose students or money.  What are you really afraid of?  Why does competition scare you so much if you really believe public schools are the best we have to offer?

Let me answer for you.  You aren’t interested in good schools or helping kids, you are just looking out for yourselves.  You know your beloved public schools are substandard.  You know that given the opportunity, many parents would flee you like the plague.  You know you would lose jobs and public money hand over fist.  And you could care less how many kids’ lives you ruin, so long as you get to keep your cushy low expectation jobs, fat paychecks and campaign cash.

As bad as the teachers unions are, the politicians (of either party) that stand in the way of School Choice are worse.  You don’t demand improvement. You fight for a system that willingly exchanges the future of students like Jimmy for some paltry campaign contribution.  You rave about what you’re doing for education but quietly walk away when enticed by money and power.   You really don’t care about education, all you want is money and power.  You are the lowest of the low.  You sacrifice children by the tens of thousands to your personal god of re-election.

It is time to demand better.  It is time for full, total, unrestricted access to School Choice for ALL parents, not just 500 lucky ones who win a “lottery” or families who happen to live in the “right place”.

And since the legislature cannot not do it, then Governor Walker should step up to the plate, use his veto powers, and make this wrong finally right.  Remove any language regarding caps or income limitations and open choice to the entire state equally.  Forget “deals” that sell out thousands of kids, and do what we all know is the right thing.

Failing action by Governor Walker, lawsuits need to be filed all over the state demanding equal treatment under the law for ALL Wisconsin families, not just 500 lucky ones.

Jimmy deserves every chance he can get, and so do the thousands and thousands of kids like him.  It’s time we gave them that chance.

(Please click here for more information on Asperger Disorder)

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  1. I do agree that the arbitrary cap is a cowardly and illogical move. If vouchers are good, they are good for everyone and there should be no cap. If vouchers are not working we should abolish them completely. This, however, is where our agreement ends.

    If private schools want to be eligible for a special needs voucher program then they should have to make arrangements to accept kids with special needs who are genuinely interested in attending without regard to how serious their condition is. They should have to accept them regardless of whether the voucher funding would cover the accommodations they would need to make, or not. If you have to hold a special fundraiser to raise money to accommodate kids that are interested in attending your school, or cut other programs to devote more resources to special education, then that’s just what you have to do.

    This, after all, is what public schools do every day. They don’t get to cherry-pick the kids who are relatively easy to educate, the kids like Jimmy who will do fine as long as they get a little extra help. They have to take everyone who lives within their boundaries. They have to cut music and debate and freshman sports teams and even some science and history electives if that’s what it takes to serve their special education population.

    By the way, I don’t need more “information” on Asperger Syndrome, since I have it myself. When I started school, my parents looked into the local Catholic school and were flatly told they didn’t have special education programs and wouldn’t be able to deal with someone like me. So I went to public school instead and had a great experience. Turns out maybe the Catholic school might have sold themselves a little short, since I ended up graduating 7th out of 215 students in my graduating class, and ultimately got a bachelor’s and master’s from UW-Madison and recently passed the CPA exam. Or maybe not. Maybe I would have had it a lot worse with the Catholic school, who knows.

    I also knew another special needs kid that attended school in my public school district. He had three or four siblings that went to a Lutheran private school. But the private school wouldn’t accommodate him, despite this family’s great loyalty to that private school. Personally I could never do that if I were a parent. If you can’t teach ALL of my kids, you won’t teach any of them.

    So you’ll just have to spare me the nonsense about how I supposedly “know” how all public schools are terrible. I am incredibly proud and incredibly thankful for the unionized, public school teachers that supported me, and I will not have people like you slander them in this manner. I certainly do not consider myself anti-private school, but at the same time I will be proud to fight for every kid to have the same great experience in public schools that I did.

    So I’m not totally opposed to vouchers. I think if we had a voucher program that gave every K-12 student in Wisconsin a $31,700 voucher to attend the school of their choice, that would be a very exciting idea. Why $31,700, you ask? Because that’s how much Mitt Romney’s school spends per student–not counting room and board. Obviously spending more money really DOES improve outcomes, otherwise they are just wasting their money. Plus we spend about $35,400 per prisoner just on “general program operations” alone. It seems reasonable that we would spend as much on law-abiding kids with great potential, as we do on hardened criminals.

    And of course there are a few bad teachers in public schools. I certainly had to deal with a few. Emphasis on FEW. There should be more accountability for the teachers who don’t care about the “Jimmys” of the world. But let me ask you this, with people like you painting public school teachers with such a broad brush, why would exceptionally talented people WANT to teach in a public school when they have so many more options available to them. Options to make more money and options to have fewer people like you vilifying them. Maybe if our society valued education more, we’d have even better people entering the field, and the bad apples would get weeded out easier.

  2. Well said, Nathan! If it were in my power, I would privatize the public school system. I would let them form either for-profit, or non-profit, local school companies. Parents would be free to send each individual child where ever they chose. One standard test per year by the state that tests reading comprehension, writing clarity, and mathematical competence. Perhaps something about history and economics. That’s all.

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