School Choice Opponents Defend the Indefensible
If your child was viciously bullied at school every day to the point that they wanted to harm themselves, what would you do? If your child was sexually assaulted at school and then told by an administrator that she had to go back to class with the student who brutalized her, what would you do? If your child attended a school where less than a third of the students were reading at grade level and have been doing so for decades, what would you do?
I thought about this earlier this week during a hearing in the Missouri Senate on a bill that would create a scholarship program for students who have been bullied, who have special needs, or who are the children of active-duty military members. Participants could use those scholarships to attend private schools and the scholarships would be financed by donations that would receive a state tax credit.
How can you say that a student who is made to endure trauma every day is being “served” by their public school? How can you say that supporting a family getting their child out of this abusive situation is “diverting” money? It is indefensible. But defend it they did.
During that hearing, parent after parent sat behind the microphone and described horrific situations that their children had to endure in public schools. They all but begged the legislature for help to get their kids out. Several described their own education in the same schools their children are stuck in and the low quality that it was during their time as students.
Opponents tried to counter with claims that private schools aren’t accountable while public schools are and public schools have to serve everyone while private schools don’t and that this would divert money—the usual greatest hits.
But all of that fell flat against the testimony of actual families assigned to public schools that so clearly aren’t right for their children. How is a school that allows for repeated instances of vicious bullying accountable? How can you say that a student who is made to endure trauma every day is being “served” by their public school? How can you say that supporting a family getting their child out of this abusive situation is “diverting” money? It is indefensible. But defend it they did.
The debate about school choice all too frequently becomes abstruse and esoteric, even amongst the various factions of people who support school choice. What standardized test should students have to take if they use a voucher or tax-credit scholarship? Should it be the state test or a nationally normed test? Should they have to take one at all? Should we support school choice even though someone we find unpalatable also supports school choice? What about allowing in religious schools? What if we don’t agree with their values?
For the record, not one of the issues school choice world has been debating came up in the hearing. If your child has been assaulted day after day and the administrators at your school have turned a blind eye, you don’t care about the finer differences between the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and Missouri’s MAP test.
They’ve been promised time and again that this new program or new administrator or new bond levy or new something will solve the problems in their schools, and they haven’t. They’ve put in their time. They’ve paid the price of failure. They deserve the opportunity to find a school that will help their child.
Here’s the only question that matters: Why on God’s green earth should that parent have to send their kid to that school? There are policies that can get them out. Dozens of states have adopted them, some did so 30 years ago. How can you tell them today that you cannot help them when the tool to help them is at your hand?
I know the arguments on the other side. If that school had more funding, it would have more support for students and things like this wouldn’t happen. Counselors can prevent this. Smaller class sizes can prevent this. Maybe they would; maybe they wouldn’t. There are lots of well-funded schools with small classes where awful things still happen.
For what it’s worth, parents are skeptical. They’ve been promised time and again that this new program or new administrator or new bond levy or new something will solve the problems in their schools, and they haven’t. They’ve put in their time. They’ve paid the price of failure. They deserve the opportunity to find a school that will help their child.
I would hope that giving these families options is something that everyone could get behind. Surely, we cannot defend requiring a child to continue to attend a school where they are victimized every day. If, for whatever reason, you want to bar that family from going somewhere else, you are defending the indefensible.