That’s what my dad reported as his income on his 1968 tax return. Why do I remember this? Because I asked him and I thought it was a lot of money. It was early 1969 and I was seven; heck, to me $1 was a lot. He had eight dependent children under his roof. In today’s dollars that $4,000 is about $25,000. By anybody’s measure, a family of ten on $25,000 is poverty. Yes, I was raised in poverty. Why do I share this?


Because Wisconsin school voucher opponents build their case on two money myths.  The first: that poverty and not the educator is the chief cause of failing schools. A recent Appleton Post-Crescent editorial put it this way, quoting education researcher Gene Glass:

"There’s a strong correlation between the schools considered to be "failing" in the state’s new report card system and the income level of the schools’ communities…" "So what are the teachers and administrators of Wisconsin’s public schools accountable for? Increasing the wealth in their communities?""What we are learning and relearning time and again in education research is that poverty trumps many things: good teaching and intelligent administration, to name just two."

I don’t deny that children in poverty are at a competitive disadvantage. But it’s now an insurmountable barrier to learning that "good teaching and intelligent administration" can’t overcome?" Has this always been the case? Let’s go back to my family. Of my parent’s eight children, six have bachelor’s degrees. Of those six two of us, a sister and I, have our master’s degrees. The remaining two have two year technical college degrees. All born and raised in poverty. All of those with college degrees are successful professionals. And more directly on point, Governor Scott Walker mentioned on my show recently that one Green Bay school that isn’t failing is in an economically challenged area.

Poverty will always be with us. If we’re conceding children born into it are doomed to fail academically, why do we even try? When did a child’s economic environment go from being a challenge to educating them to an excuse for not educating them? We are to believe it’s not the schools that are failing children, it’s the children that are failing schools by being born into poverty? How many children were born into poverty from 1929 to 1941? Did learning in America stop during the Great Depression?

And now for the second school voucher money myth; failing schools need more money, not less. Green Bay Press Gazette cartoonist Joe Heller put it this way in a recent frame:

If the "school voucher principle" were applied to potholes: "I’m taking money away from fixing it and letting people drive on the sidewalk instead."

No Joe, it’s as if millions of dollars already have been poured into the street and yet it’s still full of potholes. Would you advocate the continued pouring of millions into that street, or would you decide it’s time to take another route? Yes, some Wisconsin schools are failing. And it’s not because either they or the children they teach are poor.

Jerry Bader is a regionally syndicated conservative talk show host in northern Wisconsin. You can find more from Jerry at jerrybadershow.com