There were a series of excellent articles over the weekend concerning education. The first was an Associated Press interview with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Ms. DeVos starts out by saying, “We think that there has been an overreach in many cases on the part of the federal government in really intruding on states’ issues and states’ areas of responsibility as well as trying to engineer things from the federal level in a way that is not helpful to students overall.”
On school choice she says, “I think there is an opportunity for the federal government to set a tone and I am working to continue to do so at every opportunity I have to talk about this to encourage states to look at programs within their states to consider the president’s. The president has talked repeatedly about empowering parents with more choices and we are collectively discussing the best way to implement something like that, to encourage that from the federal level without enacting a big new federal program that’s going to require a lot of administration.”
Speaking of choice, Charlotte Hays writes that vouchers put educational choices for children in the hands of people who care the most: parents. The voucher program which began in the 1980s was intended to give low-income families the same opportunity as their more prosperous neighbors. If you have the income, you don’t need a voucher since you will not be bogged down in a school that is failing or limping along.
Ms. Hays writes that vouchers have the potential to make struggling public schools perform better because they need to become competitive if they are to attract parents who suddenly are empowered to weigh the merits of various schools.
Why should anyone be stuck in a failing school? Most parents have only a few years to get it right for their child. By age 10, if a child cannot read, write or add and subtract, they will be severely limited for life. The answer is – give me my money to pursue other educational opportunities whether they be public charter, private or parochial schools.
Families are unlikely to use vouchers to remove their children from thriving, safe public schools where children learn and develop social skills.
Ms. Hays also says anyone who has ever moved from a public to a private school knows the phenomenon – you have to struggle in a newer, more demanding school, but it ultimately pays off.
Shouldn’t low-income parents be empowered to make the same value judgements regarding a child’s environment that families in “posher Zip Codes routinely make?”
In a counter argument to Ms. Hays, Peter Montgomery says that vouchers transfer scarce taxpayer dollars out of public education and into private schools. In Oklahoma, the dollars are scarce because we pay way too much for administration. Why in the world does Oklahoma need 516 school districts? Mr. Montgomery also says voucher students in private schools do worse academically than their peers in public schools. Why is that a surprise? They are challenged more in private schools, and it takes time to get one’s “sea legs.”
The voucher movement, according to Mr. Montgomery, is and always has been political. It has racist origins in the massive resistance to the Supreme Court’s decision banning school segregation. What? People of color are the ones who need more choice not less.
Just look at America’s major inter-cities – where citizens are not safe and where the public school system pays nearly $20,000 per student for an inferior education. No student today should be trapped in such an environment. We hope Secretary DeVos makes good on her promises for a better tomorrow for all children.