With the current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos being 100% pro-voucher and in favor of many other school choice programs, it is important to address the need for such programs in the first place.
American spending on education has drastically increased by about 117 percent over the past forty years, yet test scores have basically flatlined in the same period of time. Knowing this, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to control the variables necessary to study the plight of American education. Between family attitudes towards education, geographic location, and the diversity of human learning, the variables in a method vs. result study often become confounded to the point of having little merit. There are few studies available that can control the variables, and each one produces different results.
Ultimately, the argument for more choice in education comes down to this: Should parents have the right to decide where their children should attend school? The answer is obvious. Yes, they should. The state does not own the students, and ensuring that all students and their parents are free to choose a school that matches their child’s unique abilities and learning needs is hardly debatable, so this should trump every argument against inter-district transfers, charter schools, alternative or magnet schools. At the end of the day, a parent should have the full authority to choose where their children will be receiving an education.
Secondly, the question of payment arises. As it stands, only twelve states offer some kind of voucher program. In the other 38 states, parents who want to send their children to a private school (regardless of religious affiliation) pay twice as much for their children’s education, first through taxes and second through tuition. Vouchers simply redirect the funding for the student’s education and give it to the parents to decide what is best for their child. The details of existing voucher programs are available, and while each program is a little different, they all meet the requirements from Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris.
Finally, many believe that expanding school choice of any kind, whether charter, private, alternative, etc., will negatively impact low-income and minority students, when in fact over half of voucher and tax-credit programs serve exclusively those in low-income families, debunking the myth that voucher systems only benefit rich, caucasian families. Advocates for school choice know that the real crime against these children is forcing them to remain in failing schools. Inner-city kids are hit hardest by this system, as inner-city schools are some of the worst in the country. Yet, somehow, those making claims against school choice assume the problem has to do with good students leaving these failing schools to pursue a better education and a brighter future, comically ignoring the real issues within their districts that must be addressed. This line of thinking asks good students to sacrifice academic and extracurricular opportunities for funding, showing just how bureaucratic the Department of Education has become.
My dad has taught math in public schools for nearly 28 years, and I grew up in the public school system myself. Thankfully, my parents were able to take me out of my neighborhood’s school district to pursue a better education (without moving into a predominantly white district). School choice allowed me to learn to play the cello and to join a successful newspaper staff. It also allowed me to do well in several AP classes and to choose from a number of unorthodox sports teams. Throughout my K-12 schooling, my district became more racially diverse due to students from downtown choosing to attend a suburban school.
Even if school choice expansion does not guarantee better test scores, higher graduation rates, or more students pursuing a post-secondary option, it does ensure one thing: more choice. More choice means that students can pursue schools that will better fit their learning style, allowing them to learn more effectively. More choice means teachers can teach using innovative methods, unbound to state regulations. More choice means more students of all ages, colors, and financial backgrounds will have an opportunity to achieve the American dream.