At the last debate before the primary, I mentioned that I support school choice, including charter schools and vouchers. After that debate, I had a great many conversations with folks who are deeply involved with education in our city. I learned a lot very quickly, and I've become convinced that vouchers are not the right choice for Kansas City.
No doubt some will say this shows flaws in my leadership. But I disagree. I think the opposite is true. The worst leaders are those who refuse to admit when they're wrong, those who trudge forward with bad policy despite all the evidence suggesting they ought to go the other way.
I talked about this in a recent interview with Governing magazine:
Nobody — presidents, mayors, city managers — ever says "I could have learned from this mistake." You'll see the cops stop a car full of teenagers and there'll be some kind of altercation and the next thing the cops empty their revolvers into the car. And the chief of police will say "That's a textbook case. We handled that perfectly." And ordinary citizens say, "That can't be true."
If you never, ever acknowledge mistakes then it's not possible to learn. In the political environment, it is a huge deal to say, "Actually we should not have built the stupid damn arena" or "we shouldn't have paved the road with this kind of asphalt."
I don't know why. I acknowledge mistakes. I tend to say "I screwed up." To me it just seems absurd not to.
It's important, though, to keep this in perspective.
Vouchers were never a central component of my campaign. All of the "controversy" has centered on one sentence I said at a 90-minute debate.
But with regards to the key issues in the mayor's race, those areas where the next mayor can have an immediate impact on education in Kansas City, I've been absolutely consistent.
Indeed, regular readers of this blog might recall that one of the first entries I ever did was about education. And it wasn't about vouchers. It was about the tax incentives that the mayor and City Council have been handing out to politically connected developers for the last eight years, and how these payouts have harmed all of this city's school districts.