Like President-designate Donald Trump, and his nominee for Secretary of Education, Michigan billionaire and Amway heiress, Betsy DeVos, I’m a huuuuge proponent of “school choice.”
What’s more American than the freedom to choose (unless you’re a woman, and we’re talking about reproductive health choices–but I digress…)? It’s a fundamental human right to be able to make important personal choices about your life, a right that conservatives like Mr. Trump and Ms. DeVos believe in deeply (unless you’re gay and want to choose marry your same-sex partner; or transgender and want to choose what bathroom to use…but again, I’m getting off track…).
In fact, why limit the notion of “choice” to only the question of what school to attend? As a conservative, I believe that the principle of “choice” should be applied across other arenas of our lives.
For example, I question why “hotel choice” isn’t the law of the land. When I travel, I want the “choice” to stay only in hotels with 1200 thread count bedsheets, 55″ high-definition TVs, plush robes, turn-down service, and in-room masseuse. After a long day of hedge fund manager-ing, or investment banker-ing, a patriot just craves a little pampering.
As a teacher, however, I just don’t have the budget to plunk down $1200 per night for that level of luxury…but like my hero, Michelle Rhee, I question why my zip code (code for socio-economic background) should determine the quality of hotel I can afford.
If charter school principals like Michael Fehte can charge their luxury hotel room bills to their school-issued credit cards and get those gullible “government school” taxpayers to cover the costs, why can’t I get a “hotel voucher” provided by public tax dollars to subsidize the difference in cost between my luxe boutique hotel and the Red Roof Inn next door, my normal “choice”? What’s fair is fair!
While we’re at it, a freedom fighter’s got to eat, so I’m also a big fan of “restaurant choice.” Now, I can head to my local burger joint to get my feed bag on, but believe I should have the “choice” to dine at the upscale steak house across town. Problem is, the difference in cost between the $10 burger and a beer special and the $200 cowboy-cut ribeye with creamed spinach and a lovely Cabernet is just a touch out of my reach.
Fortunately, this particular gastronomic problem would be solved with a “restaurant debit card”, a nifty little invention that “decouples” the cost of that meal from one’s ability to afford it. Funded by public tax revenues, these cards would allow the diner to “choose” whatever restaurant she or he selects, with one tiny caveat: the card is only worth $60, which won’t quite cover the $200 bill at the steakhouse.
So, while that restaurant debit card promises to “level the playing field” between burgers and steaks, it can’t possibly turn ground chuck into prime rib. What’s marketed as an epicurean equalizer turns out to be nothing more than an elaborate bait & switch, leaving diners frustrated…and hungry.
Now I hear some of you liberals out there saying that hotels and restaurants aren’t public institutions, like schools–so I’m comparing “apples & oranges.” Well, I’m also a believer in “fire department choice,” so how do you like them apples???
When my house is on fire, instead of waiting for my local firefighters to respond to the call, I want the “choice” to have my home protected by an “innovative” private fire department. Because privatizing public institutions, like prisons, has worked out so well, right?
However, in order to have two parallel fire departments in my community, some changes will need to be made. First, those “government” fire fighters are going to have to give up their fat pensions and retirement benefits, and health insurance coverage. If we are going to subsidize our private fire department with public resources, there are just not enough public dollars to go around. Cuts need to be made; belts tightened. This new fire company/old fire company plan may also mean that some folks’ houses will burn down as the public fire department “right sizes”.
There will also be some kinks to work out with the new fire department “co-location” plan. Under this approach, our private fire company would be housed in the same facility as the old fire department, and would share all equipment, including trucks, hoses, and other materials.
Critics of fire department co-location contend that these arrangements place untenable pressures with respect to the equitable allotment of resources on already under-funded institutions, and can create clashes between departments with different cultures and ways of doing business.
Turning back to school “choice,” there is another way to ensure that all children receive a free, high-quality education…and it worked beautifully in our country before the explosion of charter schools, and the specter of vouchers reared its ugly head.
It was called our public school system.
And before radical conservatives set out to systematically defund and destablize our schools, and destroy teacher unions through Right-to-Work laws, and demoralize teachers by slashing their pensions and eliminating their job security, the public schools were points of pride and the crown jewels of communities all across the United States.
The truth is that America’s public schools are in excellent shape, and getting better. Graduation rates are at an all-time high; international test score results, when controlled for SES, show US students performing as well as any country in the world; and, the “achievement gap,” while it remains stubborn, is narrowing. All in all, our public schools and teachers, in spite of chronic and persistent under-funding, and relentless attacks from the corporate reform crowd, are doing nothing less than heroic work under extraordinarily difficult conditions.
Just as the narrative of “failing schools” is a false narrative, the narrative of “school choice” is a false choice. The manufactured crisis in the public schools that has been created by competition and choice won’t be solved by…competition and choice.
Mr. Trump knows this, and Ms. DeVos knows it as well. They are betting they can fool enough folks into believing this lie in order to advance their agenda of privatizing our schools, and redistributing public dollars into private bank accounts.
The truth is that no one should have to “choose” to attend an excellent public school, anymore than they should have to “choose” a safe source of drinking water, or “choose” to drive on a well-maintained road or bridge. Providing these things is a basic function of government, not a “choice” to make on a daily basis.
Tell Donald and Betsy that you know the truth: school choice is a false choice.