Sunday, June 1, 2014

School Choice Is UnAmerican

When I was busy listing reasons that conservatives should be opposed to school choice, I missed a biggy.

School choice is taxation without representation.

When some cranky old fart (crankier and older than I am, anyway) wants to complain about having to pay taxes for schools when his kids aren't even IN school any more, I have a standard answer. Schools are not a service for parents. The people who produced the student are not the only "customers" for the school.

The educated human who emerges from school will become a neighbor, an employee, a parent, a spouse, a voter, a (one hopes) involved citizen, a person whose job will contribute in some way to the life of the community. Everybody who will ever deal with her in any of those capacities shares the benefits of that education. They are all "customers" of public education. Whether they are relatives of the educatee or not is hardly the point.

We all have a stake in public education. We all pay taxes to support public education. And we all get to vote on who will manage the operation of our schools (well, unless we are in occupied territories like Philadelphia or Newark).

School choice throws all of that out the window. Do you think it's a bad idea for a student to attend Flat Earth High School or Racial Purity Elementary School or God Is Dead Day School? Well, under school choice, if you don't have a kid, you don't have a voice. Too bad for you.

Oh, your tax dollars will still go to that cute school where the mascot is Jesus riding a dinosaur-- but whether you're upset because that mascot is ironic or because it isn't, you don't get to complain.

And that's not the worst of it. In PA, we've already seen how this works with cyber-charters-- just thirty or forty families can decide that an entire school district will have to make massive cuts. When they jump ship, they don't just take their own tax dollars with them-- they take the tax dollars of all their neighbors as well, and those neighbors get no say in the matter at all. Even electing new school board members won't make a difference.

Local control of schools used to be one of the last remaining arenas in which regular folks, regular taxpayers still had a say (yes, I know, large city school politics are a messy cesspool of, well, politics-- but that's not where we all live). School choice undercuts that power, sometimes removing it completely. I don't see how any part of the political spectrum can think that's a great idea.


  1. One of your very best, Peter, and that is saying a lot because they are all good.

  2. This is brilliant: "Schools are not a service for parents. The people who produced the student are not the only "customers" for the school." Moreover, the lame argument some make about how it's their tax dollars, so it should be their choice—as if their taxes alone begin to cover the costs of educating a child. Just the infrastructure for schools requires a collective community effort to create and maintain, one has to be pretty convinced that John Galt and Howard Rourke were historical figures to believe otherwise.

  3. School is no longer for the children, it's a big business for profiting off the backs of our kids! I've worked in education for the past 18 yrs. Its shameful what has happened to education in the state of Mi.

  4. The fact that any particular school doesn't meet the ideological needs of any particular parent is not in any sense a conclusive or even a respectable argument for school choice. If a parents only chance of teaching their own values to their own children is when they send them off to school, then perhaps they are not qualified to be parents in the first place. I reject the idea that what is taught in schools constitutes such overpowering "indoctrination" that a parent can't explain to their children why some part of it doesn't comply with their "family values" and why their "family values" are better. Is that not a fundamental part of being a parent? Raising a child should not be viewed as being the need for and the right to a monoculture of ideas that suits any particular families ideology in any and every setting. Such Balkanization must not be allowed to take root. Ultimately, if a child cannot grow up to be an adult that holds true to their own (not necessarily their parents) values and ideas, then we have all failed to maintain a free society where the individual can decide on such things for themselves. Before all that, school choice in it's present manifestation is anything but actual choice. Parents, educators, and communities have no seat at the table where what will be made available to choose from is decided upon and their voices are actively excluded. Currently, profiteers and ideologs are the only ones at that table.

  5. Very similar to Elizabeth Warren's stance on successful business people; you did not succeed in a vacuum, the available roads, schools and infrastructure paid for by taxpayers played a part in your success. All citizens benefit from a strong public school system. It is gratifying to see that the public is finally seeing through the propaganda disseminated by corporate interests feigning reform.