Another Year, Another Fake “School Choice” Week

Classroom 3rd floor

Yes, folks, it’s that time again. Each year, the final week of January features a campaign of punditry, analysis, and cheerleading centered around “National School Choice Week.”

What is “school choice?” In theory, it’s a utopian something-for-nothing scenario in which every student gets the education he, she, or other pronoun “chooses.”

In fact, “school choice,” as promoted, robs most stakeholders — most students, most parents, most educators, and all taxpayers — of meaningful choice.

The usual vehicles for “school choice” are vouchers which can be used to pay tuition, or tax credits that can be used to defray tuition at, approved schools, or in some cases to buy approved homeschooling curricula.

The key word there is “approved,” which is where choice gets shut down.

“Public” — that is, government-run — schools, including “charter” schools, are naturally “approved.” Sending a student there is usually characterized as parents taking “their” tax money to the “magnet” school down the road instead of the “troubled” school nearer their homes, but in both cases they just get the government-approved courses of instruction for their children.

“Private” schools and privately sold homeschool curricula are only eligible to enroll students using that voucher or tax credit money if they also teach the government-approved versions of the government-approved subjects.

Educationally, “school choice” turns every school/curriculum into a single McDonald’s combo meal . You can have anything you want to eat as long as it’s a Big Mac. No matter where you go, you get the same burger, cooked and served the same way. ¬†Unless you have a strong preference for one school’s football team or architectural style over another’s, you might as well just flip a coin. Whee! “Choice!”

As for those taxpayers who don’t happen to have children in need of education, they get no “choice” at all in the matter. Their job is to cough up and shut up.

The usual argument from libertarians who’ve fallen for the “school choice” scam is that it’s “at least a step in the right direction.” It isn’t.

Turning every “private” or home educational option into a uniform,¬† standardized, government-approved educational option, the only real difference being how the books are kept, reduces actual choice.

It also caps educational quality, and therefore potential student achievement, at whatever dismally low level politicians and bureaucrats can agree on.

Real school choice requires separation of education and state. Anything less is just screwing around … and screwing the kids.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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