Friday, August 28, 2020

The Zero Sum Game

I'm feeling a little dumb at the moment, because a light bulb just went on that should have gone on a while ago.

I was having the same conversation I've had many times. "Charters and vouchers and public schools could absolutely coexist. There's no reason it has to be a zero sum game," said someone.

And I agree, sort of. There are some things that can't help being zero sum, like having enough students to run certain programs. But financially, it's absolutely true that we don't have to make it a zero sum game. We don't have to be forced into the ridiculous attempt to finance multiple school systems with the money that isn't sufficient to fully fund just one. That's a choice that politicians make.

There are a couple of reasons we get stuck with a zero sum financial game. One is simple-- there is no politician with the cojones to stand up and say, "We want to set up multiple school systems and we want to raise your taxes to pay for it." The old claim of "my money should follow my child" line is a lie (it's your money--and your neighbors' money, too), but it sounds good and kind of fair. I even think there are people who honestly believe that you should just be able to move some money around and run multiple school systems with little muss and fuss. They're wrong, but I believe they believe in their story.

But there's one more reason to support the zero sum game, and that's that you know it's a zero sum game and you're hoping public education loses.

Again, this is not all the disruptors. This is the far right crowd, the :"government schools are bad" crowd. Talk to your evangelical friends and listen to how they talk about the need to "take back" some institutions, including schools. That's the DeVosian crowd, the let's get Kingdom Gain by putting schools (at least the schools for people who count) back in the hands of the church.

So things like the Education Freedom program are a clever way to end both paying taxes and public schools. Get rid of public schools, and you can also get rid of teacher unions and regulations that tell you that you have to tolerate LGBTQ students and BIPoC students who don't know their place, plus shutting off one of the government avenues for programs that serve poor people.

Again, not all reformsters. But still. I feel a little like I did a decade ago when I thought, "These damned tests-- it's almost as if they want us to fail and--oh, hell! That's it! They do want us to fail."

There will always be an assortment of reasons for disruption advocates to favor the zero sum game for school funding. But one of those reasons is that they do really want to bleed public schools to death. If I've learned anything in the last decade, it's that you cannot underestimate how very much some people hate hate hate the public education system.

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