Tuesday, July 23, 2019

How School Choice Undermines Democratic Processes

Opponents of school choice in its many forms often talk about processes and institutions and policies, but one way to grasp choice-created problems is simple, old fashioned, and non wonky. Just look at who is holding the purse strings.
In the public school system, the money is controlled by some combination of taxpayer-elected local school board members and taxpayer-elected state legislators (the nature of the combination varies by state). Every person who pays into the system gets a vote on how the system uses their money.
We'll probably want a bigger purse
In a voucher or charter system, the money is controlled by the families of students. If you are a taxpayer without any children in the system, you have no say in how and where the money is spent. If, for instance, you are a taxpayer in Indiana, you may watch in horror as Catholic schools bow to Archdiocese demands to fire gay teachers, and you may be further alarmed to know that your own tax dollars help fund those schools. But if you have no children, you get no vote. You will be taxed to support education in your state, but you will have no avenue for expressing your ideas about what form that spending should take.
In fact, in some cases, you may not even be able to find out how the money is spent. In a voucher or charter system, your tax dollars are passed on to the school at the family's direction. With an education savings account, those dollars are passed on to the family, which can then spend them for whatever educational purposes the state has allowed. But some ESA programs have very little oversight, which is how Arizona taxpayers took a while to discover that $700K of their educational tax dollars had been spent on make-up and Blu-rays.
In these types of voucher arrangements, families decide what schools are funded and which are not. But Tax Credit Scholarships disempower taxpayers even further by putting the purse strings in the hands of wealthy individuals and corporations.
A TCS system essentially lets those folks give their dollars to schools instead of using the money to pay their taxes. In effect, the donors fund schools directly, rather than through tax dollars paid to the state (meanwhile, the state's tax revenue drops a commensurate amount).
The implications of that policy choice just showed up in Florida. Rosen Resorts have been million-dollar funders of the state TCS system, but they recently discovered that some of the schools they (and Florida taxpayers) are funding discriminate against gay students. Rosen has decided to stop supporting the system until the state stops the discrimination, and other big donors are reconsidering their contributions as well.
It's an admirable stance by Rosen, but it underlines just how far Florida has strayed from the democratic process in its school system. If a policy change comes, it will come not because of taxpayers or student families, but because of pressure from a private donor. What if no donor had been bothered by the discrimination? What if some huge donor wanted more discrimination? When an institution depends on private donors to survive, those private donors are in charge.
Each version of school choice is about cutting some number of taxpayers out of the loop, giving them no say in how their dollars, collected for the express purpose of educating students, will be spent. More choice too often means less democracy.
Originally posted at Forbes

1 comment:

  1. "Every person who pays into the system gets a vote on how the system uses their money."

    This statement is a wish that is nowhere near approximated in reality. Bill and Melinda Gates have lots more votes than you or me.

    Simple contrasts make for easier choices. But they elude many important issues, including why people are attracted to school choice plans in the first place.

    Would you want your children to be trapped in lousy local schools where you have, in effect, little real voice?