Saturday, January 31, 2015

Random Thoughts about School Choice

by Phyllis Bush

What is so distressing about the "SCHOOL CHOICE" rhetoric is that the language is so innocuous and comforting that it is hard to cut through all the words to understand what is really being said. When I first heard about vouchers and charters, I also was convinced that these ideas sounded like great alternatives to some of the issues facing education. At that time I was unaware of the unintended consequences, and unfortunately, our policy makers are still unaware. These formerly good ideas have morphed into some not such great realities.

Of course, not all private or charter schools are for profit. Many of them actually do a great job. However, the CHOICE advocates have couched their talking and selling points into glittering generalities in order to hide the realities of what is really happening.

First, parents have always had choice, but politicians and choice salespeople seem to think that this is a concept that they have invented to help the poor struggling ghetto kids since the choice advocates are the only ones smart enough or caring enough to know what is best for the children.

Before the "choice" juggernaut began, parents always had the choice to send their children to private or parochial schools. When families did not have the money, most parishes had funds set aside to help those children. Some families chose parochial schools because they wanted their children to have religious education. Others chose them because they wanted to be away from the riffraff of public schools, and parochial school choice sounds so much more acceptable than "white flight."

Interestingly enough, FWCS opened Richard Milburn School as its own charter experiment about 15 years ago with the intention of helping the kids who seemed to be square pegs in a round hole school system. For whatever reason, that school closed its doors in 2006. I'm not sure why, but my guess is that it was that it was probably too expensive for FWCS to maintain along with its traditional schools. In fact, the Smith Academy seems to have been created for the same reasons. So there are good charters.

My objections to school choice are quite simple. For those who say that charter or voucher schools funds are only a small portion of the huge education budget, that is true. However, that seemingly small portion of the budget siphons a huge amount of money from the already cash strapped and fiscally overwhelmed traditional public schools. While this whole scheme looks quite good in talking points, the reality is that most of these schools have little to no oversight or transparency, and they also get to play by a whole different set of rules.

HB 1486 tilts the playing field, yet again.

If the education moneys were under local control (and that will probably never happen in my life time), local districts could make their own decisions and could levy their own taxes and could call for referendums. However, the way that Indiana has structured education funding, in the guise of fixing schools (because educators and localities apparently are not as smart as florists and pompous attorneys), they have managed to tilt the playing field where public schools have become the orphan of school funding.

Sadly, our legislators and the CHOICE privateers have sold the public a bill of goods about failing schools, and with their talking points they have managed to convince the public that all of these destructive laws MUST BE PASSED to save us all because they obviously know more than educators or the public.


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