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An Attorney Advocates For School Vouchers

by Michael Lee-Murphy | Apr 23, 2012 7:09am
(7) Comments | Commenting has expired

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Attorney Richard Komer

American society generally views education as enough of a public good to completely fund it and make it free for all.

That standard, according to Richard Komer, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, is “from an economic point of view, nonsense.”

Komer spoke at the Legislative Office Building as part of a panel on school choice, hosted by the Federalist Society, a self identified conservative-libertarian law society.

The Federalist Society, said Connecticut chapter president Peter Bowman, does not take positions on specific issues like Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education bill, but rather functions as something of a debate society.

Komer, who has argued several school choice cases before the Supreme Court, said that school choice would open up the system to market forces.

Public education, Komer said, cannot be reformed from within.

“What [school choice] can offer is increased competition and increased options, and basically it pursues the model that the rest of America follows, which is ‘let the buyer decide,’” he said, advocating vouchers for private schools.

He likened the difference between a voucher model and the traditional public school to the difference between Section 8 housing assistance and the massive tower housing projects that have fallen out of favor in recent years. 

Komer said that school choice does no harm to the public system, creates happier parents, and is cheaper. “The only problem is that teacher’s unions hate [charter schools],” he said.

Gov. Malloy has already dismissed vouchers as a viable option of school reform.

The panel Friday also featured Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, Patrick Riccards, CEO of the education reform group ConnCan, and Gwen Samuel, the Meriden mother and founder of the Connecticut Parents Union.

Suzio said one of the reasons he and his wife chose to move to Meriden in the 1980s was because the city had a large amount of children in the Catholic school system, giving him some amount of choice.

The Senator said that, while he is a supporter of school choice, he disagreed with Komer that the public school system is doomed to fail because it is a public monopoly. Suzio, who spent 14 years on the Meriden Board of Education, said that he has many family members who are teachers, and can empathize with teachers’ fears surrounding the governor’s education reform package.

“I think its a mistake to blame the teachers for what is a systemic problem. And unfortunately the public conflates the two and teachers get held accountable for what is a system failure,” he said.

“[Teachers] are in a very defensive position right now. They’re being blamed for all this stuff, as if they were totally responsible for it, when I think most of them are not.”

But there’s no easy answer to the education reform equation, either personally or politically.

Suzio said that he wished education reform had been saved for a special session of the legislature, so that the legislature could devote more time to it.

“I kind of hope in a way that nothing happens [on education reform] this session, and it actually gets recognized for the important issue it is and it gets deferred and given the attention it deserves with a special session,” Suzio said.

Gwen Samuel, who is credited with forcing passage of the state’s “parent trigger” law, said that she didn’t want to be seen as an enemy of teacher unions.

Samuel was recently fired from her job in New Haven’s Head start program in what she said was retaliation for her association with the controversial former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

“The system, and the way its designed, makes me the enemy of teachers and teachers’ unions. I’m not their enemy,” Samuel said, adding however that the current policy atmospher seems to suggest that you either support teachers, or you support the children.

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(7) Comments

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | April 23, 2012  8:36am


According to the Courant, Hartford’s new per pupil funding model directs money to principals based on a per-pupil formula that considers a student’s grade level, test scores, special education needs and English Language Learner status.

In the 2010-11 year, for example, a high-achieving eighth-grader would generate $7,759 for a school. For a high school freshman who scored poorly and is learning English, a school received $11,648 to spend on staffing and resources to improve achievement.

The district also receives (or holds back) another 25% for transportation and administration expenses

Such a program readily lends itself to vouchers to the parent. Patterned after a hybrid Milwaukee or Indiana model vouchers would be indexed 20% lower than the above stipulated amounts. The district would still receive the 25%  administration and transportation funding blocks.

The approx $1,553 to $2,330 saved per student by vouchers would then be earmarked for redistribution to the district for expansion of preschool, enrichment programs, afterschool education, technology ourchases,and other programs which increase face and contact time—preferably expended at other voucher programs providing these additional services.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | April 23, 2012  9:12am

He is just trying to sell this.

Right-Wing Campaign to Privatize Public Ed Takes Hold in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, voucher proponents have spent more than $1 million on election season so far. Will the state set a national precedent in privatizing public schools

posted by: Reasonable | April 23, 2012  10:27am

Our crippling Democratic Party control, led by Gov. Malloy—dispels any chance of privitazation in Connecticut.

Our Democratic leadership will no allow the state to save money—“as money is never an object to free-spending Democrats!”

This is why we have continual deficit spending in Connecticut—as there are never any state budget restrictions with our liberal Democratic controlling spenders, “who go through money—like it’s going out of style.”

posted by: DirtyJobsGUy | April 23, 2012  10:48am

Why do people want school choice?  Simple they want the best for their kids on a time frame that’s no later than next year. Back when I subscribed to the NY Times (years ago) the back pages of the magazine were full of private school ads.  No cherry picking here, they were military schools for smart kids with attention problems, schools for obese kids, and schools for other kids with issues.

We’ve got a one size fits none system now.  Smart, motivated kids barely need the schools.  Disabled kids get mandated support.  Average kids are allowed to drift and that’s what parents hate.  They also know that they don’t run the schools through their elected officials, the employees do so nothing they say makes any difference.  Only vouchers can get the attention of the public ed monster.

posted by: Matt W. | April 23, 2012  11:44am

Matt W.

@Dirty: You raise and interesting point.  If this debate has brought one dirty little fact out into the light it is this: The idea that parents control the school system through elected officials is a complete farce. The people have zero power in this arena.  We’ve seen the Gov of the state rebuked by the special interests and scolded while those with the power to influence this system consider what scraps they are willing to offer in order to maintain the illusion that their opponents have some say in the matter.

posted by: ConcernedVoter | April 23, 2012  5:13pm

Gwen: No, you can support teachers and children.  You can’t add hedge fund managers who want to strip mine education to that list though…

posted by: brutus2011 | April 23, 2012  7:50pm


I agree that what public education has become makes bad economic sense.

Take New Haven Public Schools for example.

Mayor DeStefano, in office two decades, runs NHPS through his appointee, Dr. Mayo.

Patronage and crony jobs abound within NHPS with its hefty nearly one-half of the city budget.

The admininstrator’s union has their members locked into six figure pensions and even a 10K bonus for notifying the BOE of retirement by January!

The teachers union, the NHFT, is powerless to intervene in the mayor;s plans and might as well be an office of the city administration.

Mayor DeStefano and Dr. Mayo spend money on layers above the classroom while clamoring for greater teacher effectiveness and even more money.

NHPS spends money to get more money and blame teachers for lack of student achievement.

This is practically a crime of horrendous proportions—and it is repeated in urban school districts across the country.

This is why private interest are so keen on getting in on the public fund pie of over 600 billion in the US.

The cure?

Pass legislation that requires a strict accounting of where public funds are ending up in our schools. Then and only then will those who spend so inefficiently have incentive to really honor the public trust.

And term limits for local governments to prevent individuals from setting up their own private fiefdoms marked by opaqueness and obfuscation.