Home > Uncategorized > ACLU Defines Purpose of “School Choice”… and it has NOTHING to do with Addressing Inequality

ACLU Defines Purpose of “School Choice”… and it has NOTHING to do with Addressing Inequality

February 1, 2018

Last week was “National School Choice Week” and both advocates and opponents of school choice issued predictable op ed pieces on the issue. One of the most insightful perspectives on school choice came from the ACLU, who unlike the AFT, NEA, or various professional organizations and parent groups, has no dog in the fight for public education in terms of obtaining money. Their argument in opposition to “choice” has to do with what they identify as the real mission of choice:

Rather “school choice” is a catch-all phrase that covers a variety of efforts to effectively privatize public education by diverting public education funds to private sources. It includes home schooling, charter schools, and virtual education, but it is mostly code for private school vouchers and similar programs, such as education savings accounts and tax credit scholarship programs. The school choice movement has been around for decades, working to expand its reach school district by school district and state by state.

In “What Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Betsy DeVos Won’t Tell You about School Choice”, Heather Weaver, the Senior Staff Attorney associated with the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, looks at what transpired in Indiana during Mr. Pence’s term of office as an indication of where “school choice” is headed and what its true purpose is… and what will happen to our nation’s public education system if “choice” prevails:

Indiana has one of the most expansive private school voucher programs in the country, courtesy of Mike Pence. During his time as governor, Pence “removed the cap on the number of students who could qualify for a voucher to a private school, increased the limits on qualifying family income, and removed [a] stipulation that the student had to try the public school first,” according to a searing analysis of the state’s school choice failures by The Washington Post yesterday.

The result?

Last year alone, Indiana taxpayers financed private school education — nearly all religious — to the tune of $146.1 million “with most of it going to families who would have sent their children to private school anyway.” Oh, and by the way, a 2017 study of Indiana students in grades 3-8 who actually did use the voucher to transfer from a public to a private school showed that the voucher program had a negative impact on students’ academic achievement.

But the movement to direct public funds away from “government schools” to deregulated for-profit charter schools and religiously affiliated private schools serves two purposes for the GOP: it rewards their donors who stand to make a bundle from the expansion of for-profit schools and rewards the Evangelical base who want to keep their children isolated and away from the presumably heathen children who attend public schools.

The ACLU’s opposition to “choice” is based on principle. Ms. Weaver offers several examples that prove that vouchers make no difference in student performance. She also offers evidence that civil rights protections are undermined by school voucher programs, that accountability is minimal, and— worst of all from their perspective, public dollars are flowing into schools that promote religion. She describes the religious schools benefitting from vouchers in the penultimate paragraph:

Schools (receiving public funds) not only discriminate against students and employees based on religion and other grounds, as noted above, but they also do not have to meet the same curricular requirements that public schools do. Many religious voucher schools, for example, teach creationism in science class. They also incorporate religious worship into the curriculum in the form of chapel, daily prayer, or daily scriptural readings and infringe upon basic principles of religious liberty by providing public funds for sectarian proselytizing.

The Trump administration, the GOP, and the “reformers” are promoting a narrative that downtrodden parents are demanding the chance to attend schools that are as good as those in the most affluent districts in their state… and that “choice” will provide them with that opportunity. As Ms. Weaver indicates, that ISN’T what choice is about at all… and the sooner the voters wake up to that realization the better.

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