#5. School choice saves the taxpayers money. First of all, did you know that in the state of Arizona, charter schools get $1,000 more per pupil in state funding than traditional district schools? Secondly, all the funding workarounds concocted (often by the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC) and implemented by our legislators, only serve to obfuscate the reality and prevent blame being laid where it belongs. Tax credit donations, empowerment scholarship accounts, and school tuition organization donations serve to redistribute state revenue and hide the truth that Arizona led the nation in per public spending cuts between 2008 and 2012 ($3 billion). Tax credits reduce funding into the state coffers and in the case of district schools, give the taxpayers the impression they are doing their part to support education when the reality is the funding doesn’t go into the classrooms, but only for extracurricular, fee-based activities. In the case of private schools, it is even worse since tax revenue is diverted directly into private education. Although proponents say school choice saves the state money, this is true only if students who started out in public schools, end up in private schools. Unfortunately, many tuition scholarships funded by the tax credits have gone to students who would have attended private schools anyway, representing a financial loss for the state.
#4. School choice puts parents in control. Au contraire. Local control puts parents in control. School choice promotes competition versus collaboration amongst district schools, and encourages charter school development. Although non-profit charter schools are technically classified as public schools, they are often owned or run (behind the scenes) by for-profit companies who don’t follow the same rules of transparency as district schools and, aren’t accountable to taxpayers. Charter schools are also legally required to accept all, but they are very adept at cherry picking their students and therefore have less than their “fair” share of special education and English language learning students. Despite this, charter schools do not by and large perform better than district schools. Parents are often aware of this and just assume charters perform better. Some do, but many don’t.
#3. School choice is the rising tide that will lift all. Arizona State Senator Al Melvin, now a gubernatorial candidate, says that giving $9,000 vouchers to parents for each child will allow them to send their children to the school of their choice. This, he says, will cause the bad schools to close and improve the quality of the rest. First of all, there isn’t enough money in the entire Arizona state budget for all 1.6 million school children in the state. Secondly, those who have access to make the choice will go, leaving those who don’t “stuck” with less funding in the public schools and much less opportunity for improvement. As Diane Ravitch writes in her latest book, Reign of Error, “in a democracy, important social goals required social collaboration.” Schools are not businesses that can reject “inferior” raw product. They must take all and teach all. Yes, they should operate efficiently but that should never be their primary concern.
As profiled by Malcom Gladwell in The New Yorker, economist Albert Hirschman, in his best know book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, said there are two strategies people have for dealing with badly performing organizations and institutions. Hirschman said the “exit” option “failed to send a useful message to underperformers.” When engaged parents “exit” the system, versus using their “voice” to improve it, they remove agitation that could have improved the school for all.
#2. School choice is about the children. To put it plainly, baloney! School choice is about business…big business. Those on the right are up in arms about “government shoving Common Core standards down the states’ throats.” The real drivers behind the standards though, are huge corporations and their foundations such as Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Koch Industries just to name a few. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation alone gave at least $150 million for the development and implementation of the standards. The National Governor’s Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State Schools Officers were big recipients and key to the adoption of the standards. The education industry in the United States is a big pie (worth over $600 billion dollars) and everyone wants a piece of it. This effort has been building for a long time, but Diane Ravitch says the current administration’s Race to the Top initiative and push for Common Core Standards is the “first time in history that the U.S. Department of Education designed programs with the intent of stimulating private sector investors to create for-profit ventures in American education.”
#1. School choice is the civil rights issue of our time. School Choice advocates say school choice ensures disadvantaged children the same opportunities as those more fortunate. Not hardly. By and large, disadvantaged children don’t have the access to make the choice. Their parents either can’t drive them to the charter or private school, or their language skills don’t allow them to complete the complicated application, or they can’t donate time to help out at the school as often required. School choice is not the civil rights issue of our time, poverty is. Segregation, largely by socio-economic status (which often translates into race), is the highest it has been since 1964. This has happened quietly and by design and the result is that those with less have a very good chance of always having less. The American Dream is really now just a dream for many people.
Ultimately, parents shouldn’t have to make a choice. Every district school should provide an equally high quality education. The original intent of charters was not to compete with traditional district schools; rather, it was to meet unique needs. In many cases, that original intent has now devolved into just another business opportunity and way to milk the taxpayer. A strong public education system helped provide a sense of community and make our nation the greatest on earth. The current trend of privatization will do nothing to help promote the public good and keep America strong. School choice isn’t the solution, it is the easy way out and won’t work in the long run. Blogger Steve Hinnefeld, in his blog School Matters, wrote “the contempt that school choice advocates commonly express for public schools is, at its root, contempt for democracy itself.” I tend to agree since the democratic process requires education, engagement and is rarely easy or efficient. It is much easier to cut and run.