My heart sank. I screamed at my computer. I texted other advocate friends. We just couldn’t believe what we were reading. Seriously, a billionaire campaign donor with zero public education experience…. that’s who he nominated?
This post is not just about Betsy DeVos. Mind you, I’ll get into that. Her nomination has merely jump-started the conversation about school choice. And, hey, school choice! It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
Not when you understand what our GOP legislators actually mean when they say school choice.
For the record, that is what I am talking about–what GOP and other “school choice” supporters say when they are proposing these changes to our public education system. I am aware that some states, such as NJ, have a system of school choice. That is not this….but I’m also not a fan of that either. For similar reasons. But I digress.
Don’t believe the hype about school choice and failure of public schools
Legislators and proponents of school choice will do lots to convince you that this is a great thing. School Choice! You have a choice! You get to choose what school your child goes to. Sounds empowering, doesn’t it? Wow, a choice. I mean, I am just sooooo unhappy with my school district, this has to be better, right? Not necessarily.
First, you have to understand that our public schools are doing poorly because our legislators do not value public education. Or, at the least the ones who do care about it are outnumbered. Your budget reflects your values. And if they valued public schools, they’d be funded properly. But they haven’t, not in decades. IDEA has not been fully funded in the 41+ years since it was passed. Not once. Any wonder why it is so hard to find a satisfied special ed parent?
Perhaps you’ve heard legislators talk about “wasteful spending” and how much money is wasted in our public schools. That’s not really true. The schools aren’t performing at their best because they have not been given the funds to do so. Sure, some are doing fine. But if you believe that “wasteful spending” is the reason our schools are not doing well, you’d have to believe that almost every teacher, every administrator, every school board member….all across this nation…sucks. And that’s just not true. Most are doing the best they can with what they have. Teachers get into the profession because they want to teach, they want to be a part of this. It is really just not possible that in the thousands upon thousands of school districts all across this nation, that poor money management and unions are the problem. To the contrary–which states and districts perform better? Those that have more funding.
So let’s take a closer look at funding school choice.
How school choice would be funded-and the repercussions.
Let’s call a spade a spade–in order to implement school choice, our legislators have no plans to increase the pot full of money. They want that same pot of money, same amount, to just be spread out over even more schools. Their “vision” is that with the same amount of money, spread out over more schools, that only the best would survive. That if a public school has to compete with a charter or private school, they will find a way to become better.
How can they become better if you are taking even more money from them? It is just not possible. Each state and each district has a “per pupil spending” amount. In theory, they want to make the money available to you, in the form of a voucher, and you can spend it on any education that you want for your child. In Pennsylvania, that figure is around $13,000. Some states it is as low as $5000-$6000. Under school choice, I would have a $13,000 voucher to spend at the private school of my choice. The problem is, at least around here, the private schools that I would consider for my son (and this is only my non-disabled son) are at least $20,000 a year. We don’t have the $7000 to make up the difference.
Mind you, Catholic and Christian schools are often under $13,000 so I could choose one of those. Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner. Part of their hidden agenda is to use public money to pay for religious education. Because basically the only private schools that any middle class family could afford with a voucher are the religious ones. Should I choose to do this, then my school district will lose $13,000 each year that it would normally receive. And it will lose $13,000 for every child in the district who chooses to use a voucher.
So, fast forward a bit….and what happens…..
Public schools have less money, and the only families left are those who cannot make up the difference of the voucher (thus, lower income families) and those with disabled children. See below on how this will affect children with special needs.
Go through a scenario. A school district isn’t doing that great, due to lack of funding. We take more money away from that school in the form of vouchers. Also with that money goes the higher performing, wealthier and non-disabled students. So now the district has even less money to educate an even needier population. The school district starts to do even worse (predictable!) and now they are faced with two options-merge with another district or state takeover. State takeovers are a disaster. They merge with a neighboring district, you typically merge it with one that is doing better. Now that district has its performance drop, just by association, and now property values decrease too.
That’s not to mention that I have a problem with public money being used to fund religious education. Separation of church and state, I’m kinda a stickler on that one. So were our Founding Fathers.
I also have a problem with ‘for profit’ education which is also a part of the plan. When profit becomes the priority, our kids will lose. It’s that simple. Take a look at what has happened to prisons since they became for-profit. Let’s not make that same mistake with our children. (I hate being this jaded, but part of me thinks that the school-to-prison pipeline will really be in force, as they have money to earn at both ends.)
Our proposed Secretary of Education, has zero interest in making public schools better. She has stated many, many times that her interest lies in taking public money and funneling it to her private interests.
Disabled children and school choice
The biggest losers in school choice are disabled children. We don’t get a choice. Private schools do not have to provide special education, so they don’t. Why would you take on the expensive burden of educating a disabled child if the law didn’t say you had to?
Yes, I am aware that some private schools provide special ed, you don’t need to write me and tell me this. But by and large, they do not. Also, many charter schools do not provide the level of special education that by law, they really should be providing. Kids with behaviors and increased needs due to disabilities are often “coached” back to their home district. You also don’t need to tell me that “My kid is at a charter school and it’s wonderful! And he has an IEP and we are just over the moon with unicorns and rainbows at how happy we are!” Your anecdote is just that, one story. By and large, these schools discriminate against any kid they do not want. In 2014, Charter Schools in Philadelphia collected $100 million in special ed funding that was not used on special ed.
And that’s just in Philadelphia. One city. As a general rule, special needs children cannot get what they need in charters or private schools.
It has been my experience as an advocate that privates and charters have zero interest in educating difficult-to-educate children. Whether it be a disability, a broken home, or something else that is completely out of the child’s control, they just aren’t interested. Send ’em back to their home district.
Many states will require you sign away FAPE if you accept one of these vouchers. So, if you try it for a few years and it’s not working, you have absolutely zero recourse as far as Due Process or seeking comp ed.
Charter/Private vs. public schools–not apples to apples
Private schools and charter schools have an advantage over public schools. Public schools have to take every child. We had one woman post yesterday how wonderful her Ohio charter school is. It’s a charter for all gifted children, non-disabled. Of course they do well on testing standards! They get to pick their students, that’s a huge advantage.
Some charters and privates put in clauses that a parent has to give X number of volunteer hours each week or month. Public schools cannot require this. Not only does it give the charter an advantage as far as volunteer hours at the school, it also excludes families where both parents work. Most working families cannot make this commitment, thus only wealthier families with stay-at-home-parents can do this. Of course they do better!
Cyber charters–they don’t have a building. Everything is done online. There are huge financial advantages to not having to maintain buildings and transportation.
Yet, despite their advantages, it’s a myth that charters and privates out-perform public schools. And cyber charters? Some studies indicate that cyber charters do so poorly at educating students, it’s like they didn’t even attend school!
You don’t need a voucher for charters.
You don’t need any money to attend a charter school. Technically they are public schools. Why am I including them in this discussion? Because current proposals call for further deregulation of charter schools. No, no, no! They need more, not less. It is already the wild west out there. They waste money. They want to be exempt from Right To Know, despite receiving tax money. As it is, they make up their own rules and get to choose their students. Well, all schools would do better if they could choose their students. “School choice” advocates want further deregulation and more charter schools opening at faster rates.
If you want all the perks of being a private school….well, then you need to be a private school. NO tax dollars.
Looking at the big picture, voucher programs and deregulated charters are a terrible idea for our kids. Our kids will lose. They will.
This is also a very short-sighted view. They want to make money by privatizing public education. What they don’t realize, that lack of education costs us in the long run. Who will pave our roads, pick up our trash, feed us in nursing homes…if we don’t offer a quality education to every child?
We have qualified school staff.
Every district is going to have its rock star teachers and its duds. Charter school teachers go to the same colleges as other teachers. Private school teachers often don’t go to college at all, not necessary. It’s not lack of qualified staff that is the problem with our schools. It’s not “the union tying our hands.” It’s lack of support and funding for public education and it has been this way for decades. Now, decades of a concentrated effort to financially starve our public schools into failure has happened. We are now seeing the results. Who benefited from all the time and money spent on standardized tests? Anyone besides the testing companies? Our schools have what they need to be successful. What is tying their hands is lack of funding, not the unions. Lots of teachers have fantastic, innovative ideas. We know what pedagogy works. We know what evidence based practices worth. We just don’t give our schools the resources they need to do this with fidelity. We don’t.
If you believe that school choice, as it is presented to us today, is the answer, you are essentially saying, “Our public schools are run so poorly and mismanagement is so widespread, the only answer is to further siphon money from public schools to private interests.”
How does that make sense?
Please also read: The Essential Selfishness of School Choice
Now, let’s talk about Secretary of Education.
She’s terrible for public education. She has stated publicly that she donates money (almost $10 million to Trump campaign) for the reason that she wants to have influence on what happens in this country. Here is what she told the New Yorker:
Even if this wasn’t as offensive as it is, as surely she is pay-to-play….take a look at the facts. She did not attend public school. Her kids did not attend public school. She has never worked in public education. And now she could be making decisions that affect the millions of American children who attend public schools?
Who is Betsy DeVos?
I am approaching 2000 words…so here you go. I could rant about this woman all day and what a terrible choice she is. Maybe we should start a gofundme campaign to raise $10million for me to give to Trump, and he’ll appoint me?
- What you need to know about Betsy DeVos
- Betsy DeVos “Daughter of Privilege” steers money away from public schools
- Vouchers at top of Trump’s agenda
What we can do about this
Contact your legislators. Tell them you want a public school advocate with innovative thinking at the helm. Not someone who wishes to destroy public education. This is a very partisan issue. But educating our kids shouldn’t be. When our public education system does well, we all do well.