Thursday, March 24, 2016

School Choice and the 85th Legislature

With the primaries over (and in many cases, those are in fact the election), it’s time for all of us to redouble our education advocacy efforts.  Although there are nearly ten months before the opening of the 85th Legislative Session, there clearly is a focus on education on several fronts, including leadership in the Senate.  The Lt. Governor has gone on record as stating that vouchers will be one of his top priorities for the upcoming session.

A recent article (click here to read the article) in the Community Impact newspaper made an effort to summarize the pros and cons of so-called school choice.  And while you may not agree with the premise of each or the accuracy of each statement, their analysis at least represents an attempt to provide a balanced view of the considerations, something many do not offer.

The reality is that there are schools and districts that are not meeting the needs of students today.  But, as I suggested in a recent blog (, I don’t believe that running from these challenges is the right way to address them.  Sure, one might argue that it is good for those who are able to use the dollars made available to them and move to a private or other school.  As kids, were we taught to run when things got tough?

But what about those who don’t have the financial wherewithal (or desire) to do so?  Schools are often the heart of the community; wouldn’t it make sense to bring the community together by addressing the shortcomings of a campus rather than splintering the students and breaking up their social development opportunities?

While I applaud the efforts of Community Impact to bring the education debate to the forefront, two specific things (and these are certainly not the only two!) come to mind about the debate.  First of all, charter schools are not held to the same accountability standards as public schools, yet are funded with public dollars.  Second, charter schools can be much more selective in who they admit (and expel) than can a public school.  If charters and public schools played on a level playing field, I have no doubts that public schools would consistently outperform most charters.

I am not suggesting that there is not room for a charter or private school environment.  To the contrary, I encourage discussion not just about the type of school but a focus on what best meets the needs of students.  That, after all, is what the debate should be about, not a one sided emphasis on one option or the other.  The students don’t really care (and shouldn’t) about the delivery option; they are more concerned that we Make Education a Priority.

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