Why School Choice Must Be Universal

Who knows what’s best for children in terms of education?  The adults responsible for them – i.e., parents and guardians – or politicians and bureaucrats?  I know, this is one of those times when you look at the screen and scoff.  “Obviously,” you say, indignantly, “parents and guardians!”  Of course, there is no doubt that’s true.  Most people will say they agree with that statement, every time, and no poll is needed to test that theory.

The next question is this:  if parents and guardians know what is best for their children, should they then also have the ability to choose the education that best suits the needs of their children?  Those two concepts are directly related and absolutely dependent on one another.  If you believe parents are the best decision-makers when it comes to their children’s education, then it follows that they should have the ability to choose that education.  It goes even further, though, and this is the part that might make some squirm.

Parents and guardians, as the best decision-makers regarding their children’s education, should be able to choose that education accordingly, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, disability, religion, or economic situation, and their choices should not be limited based on those factors.

While it seems that the very worst opposition to school choice comes from either tax-and-spend educrats or rural legislators, the truth is that we have not achieved universal school choice because too many people see exceptions to the statement above.  They’re all for school choice – for kids in failing schools.  They’re fine with the idea of charter schools – for kids who are in risk of dropping out.  Vouchers and taxpayer savings grants  are wonderful – for inner-city kids from poor families.  Education tax credits would be fine – for autistic kids.   Homeschooling is great – for kids in hyper-religious families.  One kind of option is great – but the others are not.  And so on.

None of these exceptions reflects a positive view of school choice.  Each one singles out children based on factors that may or may not have any bearing on whether individual kids may be successful in a different education environment, and excludes other children for reasons beyond parents’ control.  When legislators espouse a viewpoint that says “yes, but with these caveats,” they are picking winners and losers, and end up harming everyone with their mentality.  Who says kids in highly-rated schools are necessarily successful?  Who says autistic children are the only ones who face educational challenges?  Who says inner-city kids are automatically worse off than kids in rural districts?  Each child is an individual with unique needs, and while for some the one-size-fits-all school system may work, it won’t work for others.  Choice is the only answer, and it can’t be limited.

A system with a variety of options, that make sense fiscally in terms of saving the state and districts money as well as being economically viable for families of varying situations, is the best answer.  To say otherwise, to be in favor of an arbitrary system, defeats the purpose.  Some options will be better than others and some may not work for our state, but to take one option and limit it to select children is the most harmful position of all.

As school choice has become a priority for our legislature, particularly in the state Senate, it will be important to ensure that the result promotes education and does not limit it.  We already have a system that leaves some children behind and takes power away from parents.  We must take care not to extend those problems.

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