When it comes to the issue of “school choice,” U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) likes to create his own reality.
Yesterday, Cantor vowed during a speech at the Brookings Institution, a pro-voucher Washington, D.C.-based think, that he would defend “school choice” from supposed attacks.
“Right now, school choice is under attack,” Cantor said. “It is up to us in this room and our allies across the nation to work for and fight for the families and students who will suffer the consequences if school choice is taken away.”
And just who, exactly, is attacking voucher schemes? Even though 13 states either created or expanded voucher or neo-voucher programs last year, Cantor insisted that these plans are at risk. He blasted President Barack Obama and the U.S. Department of Justice, which has attempted to bring some oversight to Louisiana’s problematic voucher program. Cantor went on to try to fashion a convincing argument for the effectiveness of vouchers, failing spectacularly.
During his speech, Cantor praised the Washington, D.C., voucher program – the only federally funded scheme in the United States. He characterized it as a clear success, but then pulled a fast one: Politico reported that Cantor actually cited numbers from the city’s charter schools rather than its voucher students to back up his point.
In reality, D.C.’s voucher program is a disaster.
A 2009 federal study of the D.C. voucher program reported that students who received vouchers did no better in math than their public-school peers.
Another federal examination of the program released in September 2013 exposed a number of major problems, including an overwhelming lack of safeguards to ensure that the private schools accepting voucher students were both safe for students and meeting basic academic standards. The program is also rife with schools based on dubious educational models.
Cantor also gave rave reviews to Louisiana’s voucher scheme, even though it has been hampered by problems for years.
Lacking any solid data, the House Majority Leader had to fall back on a warm and fuzzy anecdote. He told a story about a student he met in Philadelphia who supposedly “has finally been given a chance to pursue his dreams” now that he can attend a charter school.
Charter schools are not voucher schools, so the story does nothing to boost voucher plans. Furthermore, the tale turned out to be fishy. What Cantor didn’t mention, Politico noted, is the particular school this child now attends is a massive academic failure, turning out graduates with very low scores on college entrance exams.
Studies and reports consistently show that vouchers don’t improve student academic performance. Nor do they offer families any meaningful choices – the best schools have the opportunity to pick which students they want to accept, and vouchers don’t do anything to change that.
Voucher advocates always seem to ignore reality because they know the truth will never set them free. That’s why it’s no surprise Cantor can’t get his facts straight. The truth behind vouchers isn’t very flattering, so when it comes to promoting them, a well-crafted fantasy world is lifted up over reality every time.