The Hypocrisy of School Choice

Senate Bill 609, the voucher bill, is working its way to a floor vote by the full senate. The Education Empowerment Scholarship Act ostensibly is about choice, but when the choice is only available to a few, it’s a false choice.

Vouchers, or Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), will take tax dollars (yours and mine) away from public schools. Rather than helping those who need it the most, ESAs will create more inequity. And, I would argue, vouchers go against one of the most basic values of our democracy, which is to provide a free and fair public education to all children, not just a privileged few. They don’t solve the problem of uplifting children who live in poverty; rather, they exacerbate it. Choice in education is a false choice when only a few have the ability and means to make it.

Did you know that Oklahoma has 43,643 homeless children? According to the American Institutes for Research, Oklahoma ranks FIFTH worst, and the rate of child homelessness is growing. Looking at that population alone, how would a voucher help these children? What private schools will they be attending? How will their parents homeschool them without a home? I’m using this as an example of how ludicrous and cruel it is to call The Education Empowerment Scholarship Act a bill that provides choice. If our legislators aren’t working for all families, they shouldn’t be in government.

You may be a parent with a child in private school who is reading this thinking, “Well, my taxes are going to pay for kids in public school. I’d love to have some of my money to help pay tuition at my child’s private school.” I understand. One of my children went to a private high school for three years. For a variety of reasons, it was the best choice for him. I understand how costly it is, but I would never expect my tax dollars to go to a private school along with my son. Would it have helped us financially? You bet. But my family’s choice was our own, and we were fortunate enough to be able to make that choice. I understand that shifting dollars away from public schools only hurts all of us. Public dollars were not meant to fund private or homeschool education.

While a few parents would be able to take their ESA dollars and make a choice other than public school, what would the rest be left with? Instead, why not work together – policy makers, parents, business leaders, caring citizens – to give all of our public schools the resources to become like those private schools that Senate Bill 609 holds in such high regard. What do private schools offer? They teach children to think critically, to write, to engage in the world through literature, to master math skills, to guide students to understand themselves in relation to their country and the world through social studies and government. Teacher/student ratios are low so teachers can work individually with students. Resources such as books and technology are available to students and teachers. The facilities are usually very nice. Emotional and academic needs are met and nurtured. Teachers are valued and are given planning time to meet with students and colleagues. Students and teachers aren’t burdened with weeks of test-prep and standardized testing.

Public schools can do this, too, and most are doing a fabulous job in spite of the fact that teachers may not have textbooks or other resources, that the schools take all children, not just the ones they want, and that policy makers (state and national) don’t trust them to educate and evaluate students without a plethora of high-stakes standardized tests. And, if you believe the naysayers (mostly those who have a financial stake in the game) that public schools are in “crisis,” read this eye-opening piece.

It’s irresponsible of our legislators to even think of passing a voucher bill when our schools are woefully underfunded and the state is facing a budget deficit where even more services, not just schools, face major cuts. Do we really want to support funneling public school money away from public schools? And don’t be taken in by those who say vouchers will actually save schools money and reduce class sizes. That doesn’t even make sense, but that’s another blog. Go here for an excellent analysis of that argument by educator Rob Miller.

Don’t be fooled by this false choice. Vouchers only serve to dismantle our public schools brick by brick.  And when that happens, what happens to the foundation of our democracy? Call, write or email your representatives today. They work for you, and they should be working to improve our schools for all Oklahoma children, not just a handful.

Find your legislator here.

Categories: Editor’s Blog