R.I.P. Ted Forstmann, a Friend of Education
by Anthony Stasi
Nov 22, 2011 | 2185 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ted Forstmann died earlier this week, and along with being a wealthy leveraged buyout expert, he was also an outspoken advocate for vouchers in public schools.

There is a big, big push to end the discussion on education vouchers in Wisconsin, especially since the governor of Wisconsin has laid down the gauntlet on spending. Wisconsin journalist Barbara Miner has made an argument that any discussion on the topic is an affront to democracy.

Miner writes, “If you care about democracy, believe in due process and free speech and support the constitutional right to a free and public education, then it's time to take a stand against the private school voucher movement.” A little dramatic, don't you think?

As a onetime opponent to education vouchers, I understand that making a public institution compete with private entities is not exactly a perfect scenario. But our school systems (in many cities) are not a perfect scenario either.

Miner explains that we don’t react this way with other unpopular institutions, and she cites Congress and the Wisconsin legislature. Miner is right, Congress is unpopular, and it’s a hard case to make that it runs efficiently.

But the difference between public schools and both Congress and state legislatures is that people have a choice to send different people to these positions. Parents without wealth do not have much of a choice in schools for their children.

In theory, those who oppose vouchers are right. Public means public, as in “paid for by taxpayers.” But in reality, the results are the most important factor. I was a public school student, and a pretty average one. In high school, I attended a middle-class Catholic high school that enabled me to get on track.

My story is not everybody's story, but I am very close to earning a Ph.D. I’ve been a college professor at two universities. Would this have happened if I attended the public schools for which I was zoned? Maybe, but not likely.

Ideally, a good public school trumps all else. But for too many parents, the nearby schools do not pass muster. It is not fair to make them wait for a school to rebound.

It is too bad that the debate about vouchers has gotten tangled with the discussion on raising teacher salaries. Teachers should be paid more. Not long ago, I wrote about how Catholic schools were closing because parents did not have the money to send their children there. If the public schools are overcrowded, and private schools are under-populated, how have we not found an answer to this?

If vouchers are not the answer, then something else has to be. If salary increases are needed to keep good teachers, so be it. But there needs to be some structural change. Innovation can still be found in charter schools, thanks in part to people like Ted Forstmann.

Guns and Backgrounds

It was almost 20 years ago that the Brady Bill, calling for mandated gun background checks, passed Congress. The Supreme Court took issue with the mandate on cities and states because it was an added expense that small towns could not handle.

But this is 20y years later, and technology should allow for information sharing to take place more efficiently and with less of an expense. The Brady Bill was 1993, meaning it was pre-Internet.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pushed for the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011, which is Senator Charles Schumer’s bill requiring more cross-checks to keep people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns. Even if you are a strict Second Amendment supporter, there is good reason to support this kind of legislation.

We live in a very different America than was the case in 1993. The law would not outlaw guns, but it would re-establish a process for acquiring one. A week ago, I attended a gun show, where it is claimed that guns can be purchased with less oversight. If you have never been to a gun show, you should attend one. It is a good way to get a feel for the culture.

The first seller I saw was a very heavyset gentleman with a baseball cap, sleeping - actually snoring - with his wares laid out in front of him. Oversight? Many of these folks were probably decent citizens, but it seemed as though a lot of them did not get out much.

I’ve visited Albright’s Gun Shop in Maryland a few times. It is a widely known, established shop. Customers are hunters, including one former vice president of the United States. A gun show is a different ball game, no matter what enthusiasts tell you. A guy that owns a shop has responsibility. A guy that is not even awake, does not.

If you are collector of old rifles, you might be drawn to some of these shows. But most of what is on display at these shows is crap anyway…dangerous crap. The mayor is right to stay on the issue. Those who check out okay will not hit any roadblocks.

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