Sunday, March 22, 2020

Virus and Vouchers

US education has essentially ground to a halt. Districts have announced that no work done distantly will count, largely out of fear that they cannot properly serve IEP students and therefor distance schooling would be illegal (aka "likely to prompt a lawsuit from a special ed family's lawyer). Where distance learning is occuring, the gap between haves and have-nots is being highlighted as it grows. Some districts, staring into the digital divide, have thrown up their hands and said, "We don't have the resources to build a bridge across that." Meanwhile, here's a district that might buy 700 hot spots for its students (cost approx: $200K).

I've been in a couple of conversations now with folks who have said that if the public schools can't educate everyone, they should just give the parents the money (the feds seem to be thinking in a different direction--just bypass IDEA). This is just another way to state the case for vouchers, but it's a framing that makes it clear why I think vouchers, in all their various forms, are a lousy idea.

Because what a voucher says is, "To get out of any obligation to educate your child, we're just going to cut you a check." It says, "You know, educating your child is hard. I'm willing to write you a check in order to get out of doing it."

That's a lousy deal. You can argue that the public education system has failed in too many schools to deliver on the promise of a free, quality education for each student. But I have never believed that the best way to deal with that unmet promise is to just say, "Okay, well, never mind then. We'll just stop trying, and we'll cut you a check to stop complaining about it."

Vouchers are not about empowering parents. Parents give up their right to a full, free, appropriate quality education for their children and in return they get whatever the market is willing to give them for the amount of money they've been handed.

Nor is "vote with your feet" an empowering slogan; it's just another way for the market to say, "You don't like what we're giving you for your money? Fine. There's the door. Have a nice life."

Vouchers are an abdication of the government's responsibility to make good on the progress of an education for every young citizen. The coronavirus hiatus is really highlighting how big the gap between different education constituencies is; writing parents a check to get them to look away is not the answer.

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