Answering Objections to School Choice Legislation

Posted: March 20, 2017 in Christians & Culture, Economics, Education, Politics, Uncategorized

School-Choice-700x466-1January witnessed a massive shift in the balance of power both in this state and at the Federal level as Republicans gained control in both. One thing is certain; we will all be confronted with new ideas and change. One such topic that seems to be making both national and state headlines is education, and in particular, alternate forms of delivering and paying for that education.

Before I offer opinions on these school choice ideas, let me extend a word of gratitude to our current educators. I believe teachers are some of the greatest people in the world doing a massively important job. We owe so much of our lives and successes to great teachers who taught and inspired us along the way. Regardless of the institution (public, private, or homeschool), you will find many great teachers. Sure, there are bad apples in each, but by and large teachers care about the well-being and success of the children under their care. They are deserving of our thanks and praise!

Despite the scores of amazing people teaching our children, lackluster results, increasing costs, and the push for alternate forms of education reveal a need for change. However, widespread attachment to the status quo and resistance to more and better choices persist. Therefore, let me pose a question and then offer responses to some of the common objections to school choice.

Is the government’s primary job concerning education to promote the best possible education outcomes for students or to protect and bolster its own public system with our tax dollars? The three common objections to school choice below show that many people are more concerned with maintaining the tax-supported monopoly of public education rather than offering multiple options in the best interest of our kids.

Objection #1: “School choice options such as charter schools or vouchers will take money from already struggling public schools.” There are two problems with this objection. First, while public school spending per pupil has nearly tripled in the last forty years, academic outcomes compared to other developed countries have dropped. We currently spend about $12,000 per student per year, or about $250,000 per classroom. Given the lack of improvement over the previous decades, it seems that more or less money is not the driver of excellent results. The second problem with this objection is that it presumes tax dollars should only be used to support the government education monopoly, not education in general. Are we protecting the system or creating the best opportunities for our kids?

Objection #2: “The government may end up paying for students to attend religious schools and this is a violation of church and state.” Let’s be honest. There is no such thing as a religiously or morally neutral education. Worldview instruction cannot be divorced from any quality teaching of history, art, literature, science, economics, philosophy, etc. Public schools offer an education from a secular worldview while private institutions have different worldview starting points. I’m not arguing for the rightness or wrongness of any position, but just acknowledging what already is the case. Secondly, our government currently offers Pell Grants that college students can spend at religious institutions. Why allow this for post-secondary education but not primary and secondary students? This seems to be a hypocritical double standard. A student choosing to use government funds to pursue education, religious or otherwise, in no way violates the spirit and intent of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.

Objection #3: “Who will oversee or hold these schools accountable?” I think accountability is a necessary component of any organization, but why must government oversight be the answer? Our founders intended for power to be dispersed, not centralized, because centralized power leads to corruption and waste. This was a core value that shaped the birth of our country. In the case of education, accountability is best achieved by those closest to the schools in question, namely parents, local communities, and other privately formed accreditation organizations. I’m not sure that the public educational system that tripled education expenses with minimal increase in quality is in a great position to offer effective oversight. Parents and communities know better than overseers in Frankfort or Washington DC.

While objections to school choice abound, closer inspection seems to indicate these objections are less about the kids and more about protecting the system. If we care about our children, we should offer them as many quality choices as possible. Parents and children deserve this. It is the right thing to do.

Jordan Tong

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