This post was written in 2018.
We’re in the midst of National School Choice Week, 2018, a public relations event established by Congress in 2017 to justify legislation aiming to siphon tax money into private pockets.
The inescapable fact is that the paramount goal of the 115th Congress regarding US education is to abolish the federal Department of Education and redirect tax money intended for the public school system into the private business sector.
Like other cabinet appointments made in 2017, the position of Secretary of Education went to a person who would like to see the elimination of the department she was appointed to head.
To Secretary DeVos, education is a consumer product, no different from a grocery item or taxi service. She views the education industry in the same light as the cosmetic industry or automobile industry—an arena of private enterprise in which fortunes may be made by pleasing consumers.
Here’s an example of her thinking:
Everywhere in our lives, we get the chance to choose. Go down any supermarket aisle – you’ll find an incredible selection of milk. You can get whole milk, 2 percent milk, low-fat milk or skim milk. Organic milk and milk with extra Vitamin D. There’s flavored milk — chocolate, strawberry or vanilla — and it doesn’t even taste like milk. They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk. Shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools?
What Secretary DeVos leaves out of this scenario is the reality of the experience of most Americans.
Mrs. DeVos and her husband are among the 400 wealthiest people in the United States. She grew up in wealth. She never attended a public school. She has never had to make a choice on the basis of how much something costs.
When I was bringing up two children on a salary that was a fraction too high to qualify for food stamps, I did my grocery shopping according to what I could pay for, not what I would like to have chosen from the wonderful array of consumer products available to all people who have the money to choose them.
When Mrs. DeVos thinks of private education, she is thinking of the kind she’s familiar with—elite institutions that can cost as much as $30,000 for a year of kindergarten. That’s more money than about half of the population has in yearly income.
Ignore the hype. School vouchers will not allow parents to “choose” elite schools of the kind attended by rich people’s children. And not all private schools or privately managed charter schools are of equal quality.
Children living in different states will continue to have different educational experiences. Even with school vouchers, the educational opportunities for children in poor states will never measure up to those in the wealthier states.
If the public schools cannot be made to offer a sound basic education to all children in all states, then large numbers of American children will continue to do without.
The only meaningful “parental choice” is the choice parents have to supplement their children’s education at home and to vote for politicians who are committed to a strong national system of public education.