Who Chooses Your School?

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The Article

Last summer, many of our children attended camps: some day camps run by the city, some church camps where kids stayed overnight, some sports camps, or computer camps, or music camps. Parents scoured brochures to find out which would best suit their kids. After all, they’re going to be there for at least a week, so you had better choose well, right?

So let me ask this: if you have the right to decide where your kids will spend one week of their lives, why don’t you have the right to decide something vastly more important: where they will be educated?

The way we do school right now is fundamentally unfair. Those with money get to decide where their kids will be educated, while everybody else must use the nearest public or separate school. School choice would even the balance considerably. In most communities which have school choice, parents receive tuition vouchers which they can use at any participating private or public school, so that parents decide where their children would do best, not the government.

Perhaps not surprisingly, much of the government establishment is adamantly against choice. They’ve managed to get their message across that school choice is the equivalent of Robin Hood in the reverse (bleed the public schools to help the rich), and we haven’t heard the rest of the story.

Did you know that in the United States, where several communities have school choice, it is not the rich who support it, but largely the poor? They are the ones whose children are failing and they are the ones who have no options. But that story is not told. Instead, we’re told all the reasons why school choice won’t work. It lets motivated parents remove their kids, while kids whose parents aren’t motivated are left in these failing schools. Aside from the obvious moral fallacy in that argument (it’s like saying if the Titanic doesn’t have enough lifeboats for everybody, no one should use one), that’s not what has happened.

In the US, school choice has transformed the very public schools which people were fleeing in the first place. When public schools needed to compete for students, they started listening to parents. They hired better teachers. They stressed academics rather than the latest fad. And test scores went up even among the students left behind. In Milwaukee, the pioneer of school choice ten years ago, test scores have risen every year for every ethnic group in every subject, after years of steady decline before school choice.

And what about money? Right now the average amount spent by the government per capita for each child in Ontario is roughly $7,500, more than the average private school tuition. That’s roughly a quarter of a million dollars per classroom. The problem, of course, is that much of that money gets spent on the bureaucracy before it even reaches the classroom. Can you imagine what could happen if new, innovative schools had even half of that to spend? Think of the schools that could spring up to cater specifically to children’s needs. Instead of a one-school-fits-all approach, you could find somewhere that’s meant just for your child.

So I’m going to ask this question again. If we are so committed to equality, why don’t you have the same choice for your kids that doctors and lawyers do? It can be so debilitating as a child to be trapped in a school where you’re not learning, where you have few friends, and where you’re being bullied. Those in that situation deserve a way out. It would be cheaper. It would be better academically. And it would be fairer. Why don’t we give them that chance?

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