Why School Choice is a Bad Idea.

My heart sank. I screamed at my computer. I texted other advocate friends. We couldn’t believe what we were reading. Seriously, a billionaire campaign donor with zero public education experience. That’s who he nominated? A woman whose family has dumped millions of dollars into school choice.

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 lovely, doesn’t it?

Empty desks are only the start--school choice is bad for America.

Not when you understand what our GOP legislators actually mean when they say school choice.

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What is School Choice?

For the record, that is what I am talking about–what GOP and other “school choice” supporters say when proposing these changes to our public education system.

Andy Borowitz quote on school choice.

The Lies about School Choice and the Failure of Public Schools.

Legislators and school choice proponents 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 must understand that our public schools are doing poorly because our legislators do not value public education.

Or, at the least, those who care about it are outnumbered. Your budget reflects your values.

YouTube video

And if they valued public schools, they’d be adequately funded. But they haven’t, not in decades. IDEA has not been fully-funded in the 41+ years since it was passed. Not once. Why is it so hard to find a satisfied IEP parent?

I’m not making this up. Watch as the PA Speaker of the House tells two public school teachers that they “don’t care about children” and that their “I Love Public Education” signs offend him.

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 think that almost every teacher, every administrator, and 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.

A Brainwashing War on Teachers and Unions.

Teachers get into the profession because they want to teach and be a part of it. 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 problems.

To the contrary–which states and districts perform better? Those that have more funding.

To hammer home my point, I’ll quote my friend Susan:

You don’t find failing public schools and charter schools in wealthy neighborhoods.

Susan Spicka, Education Voters PA

Because wealthy neighborhoods add more burden on their local taxpayers, who can afford it and are willing to do it. And the quality of the education is fine.

YouTube video

The Repercussions of School Choice Funding

Let’s call a spade a spade–to implement school choice, our legislators have no plans to increase the pot full of money.

They want that same pot of money, the same amount, just to be spread out over even more schools. Their “vision” is that with the same amount of money spread out over more schools, only the best would survive.

That if a public school has to compete with a charter or private school, it will find a way to become better.

private-school-vouchers-bad

How can they improve if you take even more money from them? It is just not possible. Each state and each district has a “per pupil spending” amount.

Why School Vouchers are a Bad Idea.

In theory, GOP politicians want to make the money available to you in the form of a voucher, and you can spend it on any education you want for your child. In Pennsylvania, that figure is around $13,000.

In 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 typically receive.

And it will lose $13,000 for every child in the district who chooses to use a voucher.

So, let’s start connecting the dots here. With vouchers:

  • Public schools have less money to work with because what they used to receive is now a voucher that is handed out.
  • The only families left are those who cannot make up the difference of the voucher (thus, lower-income families) and those with disabled children because private schools do not have to take disabled children.
  • See below on how this will affect children with special needs.

The Problems with School Choice

Let’s go through a scenario.

  • A school district isn’t doing that great due to a 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 school district or a state takeover.
  • State takeovers are a disaster. They merge with a neighboring district; you typically merge it with one doing better. Now that school district has its performance drop, just by association, and property values have decreased too.

Public School Money funding Private Interests.

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 kind of 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.

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 know that some private schools provide special ed; you don’t need to write to 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. 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 for special ed.

And that’s just in Philadelphia. One city. Generally, 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 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 regarding Due Process or seeking comp ed.

Charter/Private vs. Public Schools

Private schools and charter schools have an advantage over public schools. Public schools have to take every child. We had one woman post yesterday about 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 must give X volunteer hours each week or month. Public schools cannot require this.

Not only does it give the charter an advantage regarding 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 substantial financial advantages to not having to maintain buildings and transportation.

School Choice does not = better.

Yet, despite their advantages, it’s a myth that charters and privates outperform public schools. And cyber charters? Some studies indicate that cyber charters do poorly at educating students; it’s like they didn’t even attend school!

In Pennsylvania, not one cyber charter school has EVER met the acceptable requirements of 70% on the SPP (School Performance Profile). Not one! Ever!

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 regulation, not less.

It is already the wild west out there. They waste money. Some Charter School Management companies are 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 in a private school, well, then you need to be in a private school. NO tax dollars.

Looking at the big picture, voucher programs, and deregulated charters are terrible 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. They don’t realize is 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 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, which is not necessary. (Note: not all states require private and charter teachers to be certified)

Not a lack of qualified staff is the problem with our schools. It’s not “the union tying our hands.” It’s a 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. The lack of funding is tying their hands, not the unions. Lots of teachers have fantastic, innovative ideas.

We know what pedagogy works. We understand what evidence-based practices work. We don’t give our schools the necessary resources to do this with fidelity. We don’t.

If you believe that school choice, as 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 further to siphon money from public schools to private interests.”

How does that make sense?

Now, let’s talk about the Secretary of Education.

Note: this was initially written when Betsy DeVos was Secretary of Education, 2016-2020. However, her appointment and Senate confirmation only validate my arguments above.

She’s terrible for public education. She has stated publicly that she donates money (almost $10 million to Trump’s campaign) because she wants to influence what happens in this country. Here is what she told the New Yorker:

a quote from betsy devos stating that she expects influence in return for her donations

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 her terrible choice. Maybe we should start a gofundme page to raise $10 million for me to give to Trump, and he’ll appoint me?

What we can do about this

Contact your legislators. Any time a school choice, voucher or deregulation of charters bill comes up…contact them. Be heard.

school choice infographic

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