Michelle Rhee Pens Dear John Letter to Democrats on Vouchers

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Michelle Rhee's new book, Radical: Fighting to Put Students First, includes an explanation of her split with Democrats when it comes to vouchers.

The Daily Beast has an adapted excerpt:

After my listening tour of families, and hearing so many parents plead for an immediate solution to their desire for a quality education, I came out in favor of the voucher program. People went nuts. Democrats chastised me for going against the party, but the most vocal detractors were my biggest supporters.

“Michelle, what are you doing?” one education reformer asked. “You are the first opportunity this city has had to fix the system. We believe in you and what you’re trying to do. But you have to give yourself a fighting chance! You need time and money to make your plan work. If during that time children continue fleeing the system on these vouchers, you’ll have less money to implement your reforms. You can’t do this to yourself!”

“Here’s the problem with your thinking,” I’d answer. “My job is not to preserve and defend a system that has been doing wrong by children and families. My job is to make sure that every child in this city attends an excellent school. I don’t care if it’s a charter school, a private school, or a traditional district school. As long as it’s serving kids well, I’m happy. And you should be, too.”

Here’s the question we Democrats need to ask ourselves: Are we beholden to the public school system at any cost, or are we beholden to the public school child at any cost? My loyalty and my duty will always be to the children.

Not everyone bought it. In fact, most of my Democrat friends remained adamantly opposed to vouchers. It was interesting, though: they were always opposed to the broad policy, but they could never reconcile their logic when thinking at the individual-kid level.

Gov. Bill Haslam is pushing a voucher proposal this year, and Rhee's organization, StudentsFirst, made it rain on (mostly Republican) members of the committees that will be considering it.

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