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Why I'm Pro School Choice...

The tax dollars supporting public education should follow the child...wherever he attends school.

The more we bring competition into our schools and compel them to work hard to be excellent, the better children will be set up for success in life.

As a public school teacher, I witnessed how inept school districts can be spending money. Do you remember years ago hearing about the military paying $200 for a hammer? Misuse of funding gets cleaned up when whistle-blowers get involved. But there are no whistle-blowers in the public school system because it’s considered anti-children to criticize our schools.

Someone needs to do it, however, because the amount of money that is spent on pet projects, do-nothing professional development, and the misnomer called performance-based evaluations is staggering. There is little transparency in how funds are allocated, and in the very large school districts, like mine, the potential for money to just get "lost" is huge. Additionally, a lot of money that school districts receive is spent on things that don't actually help children. My guess is that expenditures ‘for children’ vs. those that are ‘for anything else’ is only at around 50%.

Here's an example I mention in my book Chaos in Our Schools:

In 2017, a principal who was new to our school and had a reputation for ambition decided to take ten of his teachers (1/5 of our faculty) to a 5-day conference on Professional Learning Communities in Chicago. Plane fare and lodging/meals for those five days ran the tab up to easily $50,000. Why did these teachers need to attend this conference? Plenty of videos on PLCs exist, and it is likely that our district could even have obtained videos of that exact conference for all its teachers to view and discuss when they resumed their contracts in August. As it was, only some teachers attended, and it was in June! How useful was that timing?

The point is that schools and school districts don't always make decisions based on common sense or actual need; many times, it seems, money is spent for reasons other than promoting student achievement, such as, maybe, securing a feather in one's cap.

Critics argue that if public schools are usurped, many children will be "left behind”, which assumes that the public schools are already doing a passable job with the resources they have been given. Are they? Current test scores don't seem to indicate it. Additionally, the argument that only the privileged will get their tuition for elite private schools supported by tax dollars also does not hold water. Regardless of how exclusive a private school considers itself now, that will change when taxation funding starts coming their way. Any school that receives public funding cannot be discriminatory. That means that anyone can enroll in any private school he wishes with the assurance that as long as he and his guardians support the mission and policies of the school, he cannot be turned away. It is quite likely that a lot of those exclusive schools will be seeking out candidates who otherwise would not apply, just so they can be seen as diversity-friendly.

Regarding the reluctance from some to fund parochial schools, again, it's a choice. Parents who do not wish their child to receive the religious aspect of a Catholic school, for instance, can opt out of the religious studies part of it. I know; I taught at a Diocese of Oakland (CA) school for four years in the early nineties. Other than seeing Father Frank walking around the school sometimes, it was difficult to tell we were a Catholic school.

We served minority families in a particularly rough part of the city; I was proud to be part of a faculty whose primary mission was to provide a quality standards-based education to children who needed it in order to rise above their poverty. Fully 90% of our student body was on tuition assistance from Catholic Charities.

One more thing: any school receiving public funds should be required to prove their curriculum meets the state standards, which our small school absolutely did. Working at St. Bernard's in Oakland for those few years remains a highlight of my 32-year career.

The fear and uncertainty that surrounds school choice is promoted primarily by teachers' unions and public school districts, both of whom are extreme beneficiaries of the current system. How can they be trusted to opine honestly? Their bottom line relies on maintaining a monopoly that feeds them billions in tax dollars annually.

I understand that change is usually accompanied by a great deal of discomfort, and the change to supporting all K-12 institutions with our taxes would, indeed, be huge. That means the adjustment time would also be significant. But if we would agree to discuss the idea rationally, we might come to understand that a healthy sense of competition is what is needed to up the level of everyone's game.

In the end, it is the children who will be the victors.


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1 Comment

TL Zempel
TL Zempel
Jun 20, 2023

School choice is something children deserve at the most basic level.

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