What is so distressing about school-choice rhetoric is that the language is so innocuous and comforting that it is hard to cut through all the words to understand what is really being said. When I first heard about vouchers and charters, I also was convinced that these ideas sounded like great alternatives to some of the issues facing education. At that time I was unaware of the unintended consequences, and unfortunately, our policymakers are either unaware or unconcerned. These formerly good ideas have morphed into some not-so-great realities. Indiana is home to the largest voucher program in the United States.
However, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice is completely aware of the consequences. They created a report entitled "Why Parents Choose" to further expand their choice agenda. As with all surveys, the reliability of the results rests in the validity of the questions asked and the sampling to which the survey was distributed. Their survey found that a vast majority of parents using Indiana’s voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs are overwhelmingly satisfied with their new schools, and parents were easily able to find a participating private school.
Well, duh! Why wouldn’t parents be pleased if they can go school shopping on the taxpayers’ dime?
Parents have always had choice, but politicians and salespeople like those from the Friedman Foundation seem to think that this is a concept they have invented to help poor, struggling ghetto kids since the choice advocates are the only ones smart enough or caring enough to know what is best for the children.
Before the "choice" juggernaut began, parents always had the choice to send their children to private or parochial schools. When families did not have the money, most parishes had funds set aside to help those children. Some families chose parochial schools because they wanted their children to have religious education. Others wanted to be away from the riffraff of public schools, and parochial school choice sounds so much more acceptable than "white flight."
Interestingly enough, Fort Wayne Community Schools opened Richard Milburn School as its own charter experiment about 15 years ago with the intention of helping kids who seemed to be square pegs in a round-hole school system. For whatever reason, that school closed in 2006. I’m not sure why, but my guess is that it was probably too expensive for FWCS to maintain along with its traditional schools. In fact, the Smith Academy seems to have been created for the same reasons. So there are good charters.
My objections to school choice are quite simple. For those who say that charter or voucher school funds are only a small portion of the huge education budget, that is true. However, that seemingly small portion of the budget siphons a huge amount of money from the already cash-strapped and fiscally overwhelmed traditional public schools. While this whole scheme looks quite good in talking points, the reality is that most of these schools have little to no oversight or transparency, and they get to play by a whole different set of rules.
If the education money were under local control, local districts could make their own decisions and could levy their own taxes and could call for referendums. However, the way that Indiana has structured education funding, in the guise of fixing schools (because educators and local school district leaders apparently are not as smart as florists, auctioneers and lawyers), they have managed to tilt the playing field to the point that public schools have become the orphans of school funding.
Sadly, our legislators and the choice privateers have sold the public a bill of goods about failing schools, and with their talking points they have managed to convince the public that all of these destructive laws must be passed to save us all because they obviously know more than educators or the public.