BY: EVE PEARCE
While support for school choice has long been linked within the liberal media to a small group of wealthy, right leaning conservatives, in actuality, the flexibility and right to many school options for our children crosses political, racial, and income boundaries. School choice is at heart a bi-partisan issue, supported by parents who want greater ownership and control of their children’s education. However, while conservatives know that the current American education system is broken, powerful liberal interest groups have thus far effectively limited the options many families have today.
Do only the wealthy want it?
While many liberals have argued that school choice is effectively just a tax break for the rich, it is low-income families who are forced to send their children to failing public schools, and thus low-income families that would most benefit from a school choice option.
More importantly, recent research has shown that many of the communities that would most benefit from increased education options are in favor of the provisions. For example, The CATO Institute recently released the fact that in 2003, the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll found that 62% of all Americans would use a full tuition voucher to send their child to a private school. Black and Hispanic communities – two of the nation’s most financially strapped populations – are particularly in favor of the option. A 2002 poll conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Study found that 57% of all black Americans and 70% of all blacks under 35 support school choice. More recently, 2003 poll by the Latino Coalition found that 66.8% of Hispanic families with children support it.
So who is against the school choice option? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is that those that are most vocally against the option of school choice tend to be those that can afford to send their own children to private schools already. For example, President Barack Obama is adamantly opposed to school choice, and radically favours the education-affiliated teacher unions that so often halt public school progress, yet has chosen to send his two children to a school that costs $30,000 per year – a luxury that the majority of Americans can hardly afford. Conservatives believe that every school child should have the opportunities that the Obama children have been afforded.
The Voucher System
First theorized by the legendary economist Milton Friedman, the voucher system simply put, allows government money already being spent on education to follow the child to any school chosen by their parent. Concisely put, Friedman’s original system aptly argued that by separating government financing from government administration, parents at all income levels would have the ability to choose the schools that their children attend – keeping savings on the rate of national expenditures for education at an all-time low.
While liberals have continued to argue that allowing parents to choose to send their children to the school they believe will best educate them will inevitably break the public school system, conservatives have countered their position with capitalism realism. That is, based on the ideal of the free market, freedom of choice will only lead to healthy competition between schools, which will in turn create accountability, and ultimately give rise in experimentation and improvement.
The Biggest Obstacle
So, if most Americans are in favor of the option of school choice, what’s stopping parents from realizing their right to decide which school is best for their child? Currently, the biggest (and perhaps only) obstacle to school choice is the existence of the powerful teachers unions. Their position is that if school choice were an option, a publicly supported voucher system would inevitably lead to a large number of parents choosing to send their children to private schools, effectively endangering the current competition-free environment that public school teachers currently enjoy.
While understandable, their position itself is flawed in that their argument only serves to benefit themselves, leaving our nation’s future – the children – out of the equation. Furthermore, in actuality, while it is true that a competitive education market would most likely require fewer public school teachers, the immediate result would not be a mass firing of all public educators. Rather, a competitive market driven by school choice vouchers would create a system in which public school would be more selective in hiring teachers, as well as being forced to pay higher wages to compete with more expensive private and charter schools.
The result could mean a win-win situation for teachers, parents, students, and the future of our country at large.