Largely taking a back-seat to economic and energy concerns thus far in this year’s presidential campaigns, education reform emerged towards the end of last night’s Presidential debate. What followed was a brief exchange between the candidates over whether D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee supports vouchers or charter schools. This allowed the issue of school choice to come to the forefront as Senator Obama stated that he opposes vouchers whereas Senator McCain is very much in favor of them.
To view the school choice discussion from last night’s debate in its entirety, please click here.
Commenting on the prominence of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s name in this final debate, Marc Fisher offered the following clarification in a Washington Post blog this morning:
“Who would have predicted that D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who is right up there with Sarah Palin as media magnet, would become the subject of one of the more sniping disputes in the final presidential debate?
Barack Obama and John McCain went at each other over whether Rhee supports the concept of giving vouchers to D.C. schoolchildren so that they might escape the city’s struggling public schools and attend private school on the taxpayers’ dime.
Yes, she does, McCain said–twice. No, she supports charter schools, Obama insisted.
Who’s right? McCain is right about the vouchers. (Obama’s right about the charters, but McCain never disputed that part.)
Here’s the evidence: In an interview in the Wall Street Journal last December, Rhee said answered a question about whether the city’s congressionally-imposed voucher program should be renewed by saying, “I would never, as long as I am in this role, do anything to limit another parent’s ability to make a choice for their child. Ever.”
Obama is right to focus on the District’s extensive charter school system as the primary alternative to the regular public schools in the city, and Rhee certainly talks much more about the charters than about vouchers. But while she and Mayor Adrian Fenty may not care much for vouchers, neither has lifted a finger to oppose them, and Rhee’s consistent message has been that she welcomes all choice and hopes to improve the city’s schools to the point that they can compete for students against the available education alternatives.
Meanwhile, there’s a good new profile of Rhee in The Atlantic and you can read it here.”