On the surface of it, school choice sounds like a great idea.
Parents will get to shop for schools and pick the one that best suits their children.
Oh! Look, Honey! This one has an exceptional music program! That one excels in math and science! The drama program at this one is first in the state!
But that’s not at all what school choice actually is.
In reality, it’s just a scam to make private schools cheaper for rich people, further erode the public school system and allow for-profit corporations to gobble up education dollars meant to help children succeed.
1) Voucher programs almost never provide students with full tuition.
Voucher programs are all the rage especially among conservatives. Legislation has been proposed throughout the country taking a portion of tax dollars that would normally go to a public school and allowing parents to put it toward tuition at a private or parochial school. However, the cost of going to these schools is much higher than going to public schools. So even with your tax dollars in hand, you don’t have the money to go to these schools. For the majority of impoverished students attending public schools, vouchers don’t help. Parents still have to find more money somewhere to make this happen. Poor folks just can’t afford it. But rich folks can so let’s reduce their bill!? They thank you for letting them buy another Ferrari with money that should have gone to give poor and middle class kids get an education.
2) Charter and voucher schools don’t have to accept everyone
When you choose to go to one of these schools, they don’t have to choose to accept you. In fact, the choice is really all up to them. Does your child make good grades? Is he or she well-behaved, in the special education program, learning disabled, etc.? If they don’t like your answers, they won’t accept you. They have all the power. It has nothing to do with providing a good education for your child. It’s all about whether your child will make them look good. By contrast, public schools take everyone and often achieve amazing results with the resources they have.
3) Charter Schools are notorious for kicking out hard to teach students
Charter schools like to tout how well they help kids learn. But they also like to brag that they accept diverse students. So they end up accepting lots of children with special needs at the beginning of the year and then giving them the boot before standardized test season. That way, these students’ low scores won’t count against the charter school’s record. They can keep bragging about their high test scores without actually having to expend all the time and energy of actually teaching difficult students. Only public schools take everyone and give everyone their all.
4) Voucher and charter schools actually give parents less choice than traditional public schools
Public schools are governed by different rules than charter and voucher schools. Most public schools are run by a school board made up of duly-elected members from the community. The school board is accountable to that community. Residents have the right to be present at votes and debates, have a right to access public documents about how tax money is being spent, etc. None of this is true at most charter or voucher schools. They are run by executive boards or committees that are not accountable to parents. If you don’t like what your public school is doing, you can organize, vote for new leadership or even take a leadership role, yourself. If you don’t like what your charter or voucher school is doing, your only choice is to withdraw your child. See ya.
5) Charter Schools do no better and often much worse than traditional public schools
Pundits and profiteers love to spout euphoric about how well charter schools teach kids. But there is zero evidence behind it. That is nothing but a marketing ploy. It’s like when you’re in a bad neighborhood and walk past a dive that claims to have the best cup of coffee in the city. Yuck. Surely, some charter schools do exceptionally well. However, most charters and almost all cyber charters do worse than their public school counterparts. Fact.
6) Charters and voucher schools increase segregation
Since the 1950s and ’60s, we used to understand there was no such thing as separate but equal education. Before then we had Cadillac schools for white kids and broken down schools for black kids. The Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional. But today we have Cadillac schools for rich and middle class kids (most of whom are white) and broken down schools for the poor (most of whom are black or brown.) After making tremendous strides to integrate schools and provide an excellent education for everyone, our public schools have been resegregated. Charter and voucher schools only make this problem worse. They either aid in white flight or leach away minority students. This just makes it easier to give some kids a leg up while keeping others down.
7) Charter and voucher schools take away funding at traditional public schools
It costs almost the same amount of money to run a school building of a given size regardless of the number of kids in it. When students leave the public schools for charter or voucher schools, the public school loses valuable resources. It now has less revenue but the same overhead. So even if you found an excellent charter or voucher school to send your child, you would be hurting the chances of every other student in the public school of having their own excellent education. This is what happens when you make schools compete for resources. Someone ends up losing out on an education.
8) Properly funding parallel school systems would be incredibly wasteful and expensive
We could fix this problem by providing adequate funding for all levels of the school system – traditional public schools, charters, voucher schools, etc. However, this would be exorbitantly expensive. We don’t adequately fund our schools now. Adding additional layers like this would mean increasing national spending exponentially – maybe by three or four times the current level. And much of that money would go to waste. Why have three fully stocked school buildings in one community when one fully stocked building would do the job? I don’t imagine residents would relish the tax hike this would require.
9) School choice takes away attention from the real problems in our public schools – poverty and funding equity
We have real problems. More than half of public school students live below the poverty line. They are already several grade levels behind their non-impoverished peers before they even enter kindergarten. They need help – tutoring, counseling, wraparound services, nutrition, etc. The predicament is even more complicated by the way we fund our schools. Throughout the country, poor districts get less money than wealthy or middle class ones. The students who go to these schools are systematically being cheated out of resources and opportunities. And instead of helping them, we’re playing a shell game with charter and voucher schools. The problem isn’t that parents don’t have several excellent choices. If they’re poor, they often don’t have one.
10) School choice is not supported by a grass roots movement. It is supported by billionaires.
The proponents of school choice will tell you that they are only doing the will of the people. This is what parents want, they say. Baloney. While there are individuals who support school choice, the overwhelming majority of money behind this movement comes from conservative billionaires actively trying to dismantle the public education system. They want to steal the public system and replace it with a private one. They don’t care about your child. They just want to steal the hundreds of billions of tax dollars we pay to educate our children. This is not philanthropy. It is a business transaction meant to screw you and your child out of your rights.
If we really want to ensure every child in this country gets an excellent education, the answer isn’t school choice. Instead, we need to commit to supporting our public school system. We all need to be in this together. Yes, our schools should look at the needs of each child and tailor education to fit appropriately. But that shouldn’t be done in parallel school systems. It should be done under the same umbrella. That way, you can’t defund and defraud one without hurting all. It can’t just be about your child. It has to be about all children.
That’s the only choice worth making.