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  Providence Journal Op-Ed on School Vouchers
This article appeared in October, 2002 in the Providence Journal newspaper.
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Population: 176,862
Elevation: 115 feet
Land area: 18.5 square miles
Providence Journal
School Voucher Op-Ed
October, 2002

The following appeared as an Op-Ed piece on the Providence Journal editorial page in October 2002.

(Since then, the average cost of educating a child in Providence schools has risen to $12,600, and the average cost for a child in a parochial elementary school is now $4,000 - the figure which Dave now proposes for a voucher.)



By David Talan


You are familiar with problems in the Providence public school system. Thousands of poor inner-city children are trapped in bad schools. Many spend hours a day on a school bus, going to schools far from their own neighborhood.

And yet, the Providence teachers union has fought any kind of reform. They refuse to teach as many hours as teachers in other communities do. And they actually rejected a proposed contract that would have made them the highest-paid teachers in the entire state. Why? Because they would have had to work an extra hour a month. In a non-secret ballot, union members physically intimidated teachers who wanted to approve the contract. The union waged a nasty negative campaign against Superintendent Diana Lam, just because she asked them to do their job. Teachers engaged in a cynical "Work To Rule" job action. They refused to do extra tutoring; supervise extracurricular activities; help plan for smaller more-manageable schools; or do any of the other things a teacher is normally expected to do. And now, Diana Lam has left, because she saw that the teachers' union was going to be back in control with the change of administration on September 6.

Million$ in state money has been poured into Providence schools, with little results. The money just goes to raise teachers' salaries; and hire countless non-teaching employees, many of questionable value.

Meanwhile, the suburbs are up in arms, because their property taxes are rising, while so much state aid is going to Providence. It is only a matter of time before Providence gets cut off, and state money goes to outlying areas instead.


In more affluent sections of the city, parents have already pulled their children out of the public schools, and send them to private or parochial schools. For instance, on the well-to-do east side (20% of the city), there is only one public elementary school (Martin Luther King) and one middle school (Nathan Bishop, where many students are bused in from other areas, just to fill the school). Far larger numbers of children go to private schools like Wheeler, Moses Brown, Alperin Schechter, Hebrew Day, Holy Name, Lincoln or Gordon.

But in poorer neighborhoods, like the south side, parents simply cannot afford to send their children to good parochial schools (like St. Matthew's or Bishop McVinney) or highly-rated private schools (like Community Prep or San Miguel); even though these schools could handle many more students than they currently have.

Already, 8,000 of the 36,000 school-age children in Providence have fled the public school system. I estimate that at least double that number would be gone if parents could afford it (or about half the children would be outside the public school system).


I have a very simple solution: a school choice voucher system, similar to the successful plans already used in Cleveland and Milwaukee, and similar to one proposed by former Providence Republican State Representative Mary Ross.

I would provide a tuition voucher of $3,000 for each child who leaves the public school system to go to a private or parochial school. (This is roughly the actual cost to educate a child in a parochial elementary or grammar school). Children would go to schools chosen for them by their parents; (not assigned to them by a School Dept. bureaucrat). If that school is not doing its job, they would take the voucher to another school that works for them.

Not only would this plan benefit children who leave the public school system, but it would also help those who choose to stay. It would reduce the massive overcrowding in the public schools. It would end cross-town forced busing, because there would now be room for children in their neighborhood school (close enough to walk to). Parents without cars would be able to get involved in their children's schools close to their home. And the competition would force public school teachers to accept reforms that improve education.

And we would save a lot of money. Let's look at some simple math. The annual cost per student in the Providence public schools is $9,300. The cost of a voucher is $3,000. The savings per child is $6,300. Multiply this by thousands of students, and we are talking about some serious money. (In fact, I estimate that we would spend $25 million a year less on schools, while providing a better education for everybody). The School Department spends 55 percent of the entire city budget, and I am the only candidate who offers a serious way to spend less money, instead of raising taxes again.

And contrary to the argument often used by voucher foes, we would NOT be taking money away from the public schools. Under my plan, we would still be providing the same amount of money and resources per student in the public schools.

This would also provide some simple fairness to parents now supporting public schools with their high taxes, but not using them because they do not choose to send their children to inferior schools.


Teachers unions adamantly oppose this plan, because there would be competition for the students. If students could afford to leave the public school system, many non-performing teachers would lose their jobs.

So they use bogus arguments against school choice. They claimed it violates the separation of church and state. But we have already had a voucher system for college students for half a century. The GI Bill and Pell Grants are nothing more than vouchers for college students to attend a school of their choice; whether it be a church school like P.C., or a private school like Brown or R.I.S.D., or a state school like U.R.I. or R.I.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Cleveland's school voucher plan is constitutional. Now, there is no excuse for us to not allow every Providence child to go to a good school of their parents' choice!!


Then vote for me on November 5, and I will make this happen!


DAVID TALAN is the Republican candidate for Mayor of Providence. He is also the Vice-Chairman of the state Republican Party. And he was the Administrative Assistant for former State Representative Mary Ross, when she sponsored school voucher legislation in the 1990's.

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