In her new memoir, Radical, former Washington, D.C., public schools honcho Michelle Rhee describes on her eureka moment about vouchers. She describes the parade of mothers who came to her after working the system as hard as they could to get their kids out of bad neighborhood public schools and failing and her sense of despair at being unable to help them:
Who am I, I thought, to deny this mom and her child an opportunity for a better school, even if that meant help with a seventy-five-hundred-dollar voucher? If they got a voucher, and her child could attend a really good Catholic school, perhaps, why would I stand in the way—especially since I don’t have a high-quality DCPS alternative?
I just couldn’t look mother after mother in the eye and deny their children the opportunity I wanted for my own children. It would have required me to say, “Gee, I’m sorry, you’re just going to have to suck it up. I know your elementary school is a failing school, and your child will probably not learn how to read, but I really need five more years to fix the system. And while I’m fixing the system, I need you and your neighbors to be really patient. Hang in there with me. Things will get better. I promise.”
If someone said that to me, I’d have said, “You may need more time to fix the system but my kid doesn’t have time. She has only one chance to attend first grade, and if she can’t learn to read by the end of first grade, her chances for success in life will be compromised. So with all due respect—heck no!”
Rhee has a reputation as a hardass, so it's telling that on this issue she appeal to emotion. She changes her mind because she feels like a jerk telling these parents to suck it up. And well she should. Democrats gave her hell for this decision at the time. She now runs the advocacy group Students First, which flights for school choice and against unions.
And here's Reason TV on D.C.'s voucher program: