The Department of Education and Education in general has been something I’ve wanted to talk about for a few weeks now. It all got started with the cont reversal pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, got appointed in a historic way. It was a 50 – 50 tie in the Senate and Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie by voting yes and confirming DeVos’ appointment. Her confirmation has widened an ongoing debate about Public vs. Private school and the idea of school choice. DeVos has been connected to politics for a long time through being a part of Michigan Republican Party leadership as well as being an advocate for private schools, charter schools, and school choice. She’s not exactly an ally of the public school system or teacher unions and this lead to her being a controversial pick for Secretary of Education; the person who is at the head of the entire public school system. Personally I wasn’t happy when Betsy Devos was confirmed as the Secretary of Education and I was disappointed that one of my two Senators voted for her (the Republican one). But here we are. Betsy Devos is officially our Secretary of Education and has been for a few weeks now. What I wanted to focus on here in this piece is the idea of school choice and how it might grow moving forward under a Republican Congress, Republican President, and a very pro-school choice Secretary of Education.
So what is school choice. If you’re like me you might not know exactly what it is but you know it has something to do with public school vs. private school. Wikipedia defines School Choice as “a term for K–12 public education options in the United States, describing a wide array of programs offering students and their families alternatives to publicly provided schools, to which students are generally assigned by the location of their family residence.” (Wikipedia) To kind of simplify it, where you go to public school is usually dictated by where you live. If you live in “x” school district, you will go to “x” public school. Now there are things like open enrollment, but for the most part that is how it works. Now school choice advocates for the ability for the parents to choose whether or not their child would attend the public school or to attend another school like a private school, a charter school, or be home schooled. My feeling is that people aren’t opposed to giving the choice of schooling to the parents, the problem comes from where the funding will go. People are weary to allow school choice because they are afraid that will lead to funding being divested away from public schools especially since the funding for public schools is often connected to attendance. If people start opting out of public schools and attend private schools or charter schools, funding for public schools will begin to dry up. That’s the ultimate worry of public school teachers, teacher unions, and others connected to the public school system.
Another problem that’s connected to funding is how excess able things like school vouchers will become to people who are in poorer neighborhoods. If all the ‘rich kids’ opt for going to private schools, then the poorer kids will have to go to public schools that are underfunded leading to a wider gap in the quality of education between poorer kids and richer kids. The lack of public school funding will also lead to the best teachers teaching in private schools or charter schools because these schools will be better funded and will be able to pay more for teachers. Thus the quality of education will widen more and more leading to a vicious cycle where the public education system is left out in the cold to fend for itself till it ultimately collapses due to the lack of financial support and teachers willing to teach in the public school system.
All of this is definitely worse case scenario, but a lot of people fear that someone like Betsy DeVos might start this scenario off by expanding school choice programs. I think the best case scenario for school choice is that really smart kids who live in poorer areas might be able to escape ‘failing schools’ and attend private institutions where they will thrive. It’s all about giving choice (hence the name) of where children are able to find the best place to be educated whether that be in public schools, private schools, charter schools, or being home schooled. School choice advocates don’t want children being stuck in failing public schools when they could get some kind of voucher to go to a much better school.
Personally I’m for school choice on principal because I see how good vouchers can be for children. Now I went to public school and I thrived in public school largely due to the wonderful teachers I had and the fact that I was pretty smart (not trying to brag but I got mostly A’s and B’s). That being said, my school was pretty small and didn’t have a ton of opportunities. We were so small that we didn’t have football and they only offered one AP class (AP Calculus). Instead my school allowed kids attend classes at a local community college on their dime. The high school paid for the classes and books and any additional supplies we needed for class. If I wasn’t able to take those classes I would have ran out of classes to take at my high school. So maybe someone would rather attend a private school than attend the high school I attended and that should be their choice. That being said, I did say I didn’t care for DeVos. To me she is too involved in the private school system and doesn’t have any business running the public schools. I know that some people agree and others disagree so I’m just going to leave it at that. I believe we need to make education affordable and accessible to everyone using a wide range of options that include a strong public education system, private schools, charter schools, and homeschooling. All of these need to have a seat at the table when talking about what’s the best way to educate children and I think parents should have a choice in where there kids go to school and how they are educated, but that decision should include a strong, well funded public school system.
Well I think that’s enough. I got my two cents in on the subject. I’m sure there’s people on both sides who would nitpick I got things wrong or worded things badly, but oh well. You can’t please everyone.
Reminder: Keep all discussion civil and on topic. I do not want to shut down free speech but I will if the speech is hateful and/or not-constructive. Thank you.
Edit: Washington Post published an article yesterday talking about School Choice and Private School Vouchers. You can view it here.