Friday, February 3, 2017

A gift to private schools with no accountability

NEIFPE co-founder Phyllis Bush wrote this op-ed for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel about privatization.

A gift to private schools with no accountability

By Phyllis Bush for The News-Sentinel
Thursday, February 02, 2017 8:01 AM

Every January the education reform takeover artists orchestrate countless “school choice” events, presenting us with quasi-infomercials about their miraculous successes. That said, nothing says well-financed and effective marketing like 21,392 events across all 50 states and photo ops with mayors and elected officials as they issue proclamation after proclamation about the importance of school choice.

Nothing says instructional and fiscal irresponsibility as the school choice promoters who push optics over substance. Nothing says access to legislators like the bright yellow scarves (readily available in “choice” kits), which open doors of access for the scarf-wearers ahead of us non-scarf-wearing citizens who are sent to the end of the legislators’ access lines. These “reformers” are dynamic salespeople who never mention that there are negative consequences to school choice.

Accordingly, the school choice rhetoric is so hypnotic that unless a person digs into the details, it is nigh on impossible to cut through all of the jargon to understand what is really meant by “school choice.” In fact, some ideas which look good on the surface often morph into some not such great realities.

What, you might ask, are those not-so-pleasant realities? Perhaps an acquaintance with some review of the true cost of charters and vouchers (aka opportunity scholarships/Education Savings Accounts) might be helpful. Here are some of the unadvertised side effects of vouchers and charters:

Vouchers drain state tax dollars from the entire education funding pot. This often causes district budgeting deficits and/or the need for tax increases, referendums and the like. That loss of revenue to public schools increases class sizes and diminishes student resources such as counselors, support personnel, supplemental materials and buses.

From the vantage point of a traditional public school supporter, vouchers are a gift of taxpayer funds given to private schools without any accountability. Additionally, the expansion of choice is creating two separate school systems. In this parallel system, one pathway will be for those who can afford quality choices. The other pathway will be to an underfunded, separate-but-unequal road, marked by poverty and by zip codes. As most people know, public schools are required to accept all students while “choice schools” have the option of choosing the students who fit their agenda. Choice schools are allowed to reject students with behavior issues, students with low scores, students with disabilities, and students who don’t speak English.

The probable result of this further expansion of choice schools will be that the children with the most difficulties will be housed in the least well-financed schools. Sadly, many legislators have chosen to be willfully unaware of the consequences of “school choice.”

While the reformers and the takeover artists and the hedge fund managers talk and talk and talk about the miraculous results of school choice, research shows that these results are uneven at best. As thoughtful citizens and taxpayers, wouldn’t it be prudent if we asked ourselves what is best for our traditional public schools, our communities and our kids?

Perhaps the fundamental question is what does society stand to lose in the name of “school choice?” Whose choice is it, anyway?

Phyllis A. Bush is a resident of Fort Wayne.


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