I’ve been an advocate for school choice since my days as an after-school program director in Gary, IN. I’ve seen the devastation that an inflexible, behemoth, monopolized public education system can have in poor and minority communities firsthand. And I’ve seen the incredible innovation and improvements that genuine school choice can bring to those communities. The opening video was taken on a trip to one such school district in Milwaukee.
It’s not a subject that is often in the public mind, particularly in a news cycle that is dominated by Trump hatred, impeachment, and Dancing With the Stars. As an op-ed journalist who makes her money from your faithful clicks, there isn’t a huge return for the effort of reporting on choice in education. Regardless, I believe school choice is the civil rights issue of our time. I’ll make the case as often as it needs to be made. My most recent podcast Just Listen to Yourself is all about choice and the talking points against it. You can listen to the episode in its entirety anywhere you find your podcasts or scroll to the bottom of this page.
However, in the interest of keeping the fight alive in any way possible here is my summary of why I believe school choice is the best choice for Black and other minority students and for Americans in general.
- Your zip code should not determine your educational opportunity. Although the landscape of the Black experience in America is changing, the majority of Black students still live in urban, underprivileged, poverty-stricken areas. That means their schools are there too. We would never agree to a law that forces people to shop at the one grocery store in our zip code. Why do we think that’s okay when it comes to schooling our children? Black parents, in particular, should be looking for every opportunity to reach outside oppressed neighborhoods and access quality educational opportunities.
- Money isn’t everything and the love of money is the root of all evil. We hear a lot – “We just need to give more money! The schools just need more money!” The cry for more money has been going on at the local and federal level in education for at least 50 years. Half of California’s state budget goes to education. In Louisiana, their education budget has increased by billions in just the last decade, despite the student population declining dramatically. In Los Angeles, literacy education is so dire they are literally graduating children who can’t read or write well enough to move on to their own state colleges. Where is the money going? In Chicago, the teachers went on strike and won, but what did they win? More money for the classroom? No. They won more money for themselves. As in California, the state is still claiming they don’t have enough money and they’ll be forced to put yet another tax or bond on upcoming ballots. At some point, we have to admit that money is not the answer. It’s all getting sucked up at the top and not reaching the people it’s supposed to directly benefit – the students. We need a fundamental change to our education approach. School choice forces innovation through competition and by empowering parents to be more active in the system, which in and of itself is a highly influential force for change. How come no one ever asks where the money is going? Ask where the money is going, please.
- Competition is good. It gives incentive to improve a product. Right now, public schools have no incentive to improve. They get your money whether they fail your child or not. A lot of people get nervous when they hear about competition in education. They feel this is a “public” service and we shouldn’t be treating education like a commodity. But why not? The whole point of funding education in this country is to make an investment in the future. We educate our kids (hopefully well), they become earners who drive the economy and taxpayers who fund the government. Hell yes, education is a commodity. Any valuable commodity is the result of a market forced to compete for your loyalty. There is no reason why the education system should not be forced to compete for your child’s mind. It’s the most valuable and precious commodity this country has. As Whitney Houston sang – I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way!
- Time. The argument goes that with the right amount of funding it’s just a matter of time to implement the necessary changes to improve schools. It takes patience. Well, whose child has to be the guinea pig while the “smartest people in the room” figure out how to make the changes? Will it be the child of the wealthy lawyer living in Martha’s Vineyard? No, that child will attend the best schools money can buy. She’ll bypass public school altogether. It’ll be the poor and disadvantaged children, often minority children who will be asked to just “deal with it” while everyone else bitches nonstop about money and health benefits. Isn’t it interesting that it is so often Black people who are asked to just cope, to just be patient, to just be silent while the white saviors in government figure out what’s best for us? Black students are out of time. We can no longer afford to let them be guinea pigs. Compassion is in choice, not condemning them to a kindergarten-to-prison pipeline.
- School choice reintegrates horrifically segregated schools. It’s an odd anti-choice talking point that school choice creates segregation. When the choice lies in the hands of parents and students, there is no way segregation can survive. Even if some kind of “white flight” were to begin, everyone else can just choose to go where the White people are. Simple as that. Schools in 2019 are more segregated than they’ve been since Brown v. Board of Ed. Choice ends segregation because students are no longer trapped in their zip codes but have the freedom to avail themselves of any school in any area alongside any cultural, ethnic or racial group.
At the end of the day, what is so wrong with being able to choose? Underneath it all is a prevailing idea that poor people don’t love their kids the way wealthy (White) people do…that they are not capable of making the “right” choices for their own children.
And really, that’s the crux of it. Some people get to choose because they “know better”…and the rest of us have to trust the “know betters” with the future of our children.
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