Private school voucher proponents blowing more smoke

Published 2:37 pm Friday, January 31, 2020

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You know that an organization that thinks Big Tobacco is getting a raw deal is just the group you want shilling for private school vouchers. That brings me to the Heartland Institute, which is doing both. I am still researching their other policies, including whether or not the Earth is flat.

I have discovered they once undertook a short-lived effort to debunk global warming with an advertising campaign featuring a photo of Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, whose mail bombs killed three people, including a friend of mine, Tom Mosser, a public relations executive in New York, and injured 23 others. Their billboard had Kaczynski asking the question, “I still believe in global warming, do you?”

The institute planned also to feature Charles Manson and Fidel Castro asking the same question. They pulled the billboard a day later after the predicted backlash but were unapologetic in their ham-handed efforts to discredit global warming proponents.
A freshman PR student at my beloved Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia could have told them there is a better way to make your point than featuring madmen killers, but I have a feeling these people are too smug and arrogant to listen to anybody but themselves. There is the saying that a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client. The same holds true for advertising and public relations.

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Now, the institute is out with a study to promote ESAs, or Educational Savings Accounts, which is another ns a series of efforts to demean and disparage public schools and those that teach in them, courtesy of their state government relations manager in Virginia. She does not show up as a registered lobbyist in Georgia, according to the State Ethics Commission, whose website is about as easy to navigate as the Himalayas — this observation from a former member of the commission — so I guess she isn’t going to lobby the legislators with whom she has corresponded.

Still, teachers, you need to be on your guard. Even though it is an election year, don’t be surprised if this turkey takes flight. No doubt there are some intrepid public servants under the Gold Dome just waiting to use this study as fodder for justifying their decision. With Heartland’s help, you might even see an ad campaign endorsing ESAs featuring Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy and Idi Amin.

The institute is touting ESAs with a document entitled, “Research and Commentary.” It includes a footnote saying that “Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation.” It does make you wonder why they made the effort to send it out to legislators if they don’t intend to influence legislation.

To give the effort further credibility, the footnote adds that the study “does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute.” Let me see if I have this right: The study isn’t intended to influence legislation and, anyway, the Heartlanders say it doesn’t necessarily represent their own views. This is very confusing. I would ask Ted Kaczynski to sort this out for me, but he won’t return my calls.

One of their talking points says, “Research also shows students at private schools are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students. No kidding.

Admittedly, I am a mere public school graduate, so what do I know, but none of the above is the fault of public schools. It’s the fault of our society. It is much easier for politicians and navel-gazing think tanks like Heartland Institute to blame public schools than fix the problems that come in the schoolhouse door. Private schools can pick and choose who they want and if they don’t follow the rules, they can kick them out. Not public schools.

Under the current voucher system in Georgia, there is little if any accountability. No measurement of academic achievement required of private schools. No public information. No transparency. That may be because the evaluation of voucher programs in other states shows either a negative impact on student outcomes or no impact at all. And yet the voucher crowd keeps on coming.

As for Heartland Institute, I would suggest they stick to promoting the benefits of e-cigarettes and quit blowing smoke about vouchers. They bombed out on this one.