In the hustle and bustle of the new administration, no news story seems to last more than 24 hours without being overshadowed by another, but there’s one story I just can’t seem to overlook. In the weeks preceding the appointment of Betsy Devos as education secretary, the controversial subject of private/charter schools had come up several times. Devos is and always has been a firm supporter of charter schools and school choice, so with her as the U.S Secretary of Education, what does this mean for the future of public education?
Let’s start with the basics: school choice is a term used to cover the movement in education to allow parents to choose where to send their children to school, rather than send them to whichever public school they’re zoned for. This means expanding public education to include institutions such as charter schools and private schools. Charter schools are a hybrid of public and private; they typically require an application process to get in, there’s limited space and can be run by a for-profit private company. But, they are free of charge and are still accountable to abide by government academic standards to receive funding. Private schools are different because they don’t rely on any government funding and are therefore completely autonomous to government standards. They also run like universities in that they charge for tuition and rooming/board if it’s a boarding school.
As Secretary of Education, Devos will likely use her platform to encourage states to promote school choice initiatives. The U.S government can offer money to states to implement certain programs that help parents put their children into private schools and allow them to send their kids to schools outside their zoned location. These include those such as the scholarship tax credit program, which rewards individuals/companies with state tax credit if they donate money to non-profit organizations who grant private school scholarships. Another is the school voucher program in which the state subsidizes parents who want to send their children to a private school. School choice activists say that programs like these will increase competition between schools. This, they say, results in underperforming schools to be shut down and others to raise their standards.
School choice is a great idea in theory, but it hasn’t been as effective in practice. When it comes down to it, low-income neighborhoods rely on their local public schools to provide a solid education for their children. Many parents can’t afford to transport their children to private or charter schools out of their zone. If parents work, children usually walk or take the bus, which is only an option if the school is in their zone. Even if the costs of tuition, etc. were alleviated, the costs of sending them there wouldn’t be. If private schools start getting more traffic and outperform the public schools, public schools would be shut down, meaning many children wouldn’t have a place to go to school. Charter schools are also controversial because they tend to pull away resources and funding from local public schools if they are performing better.
Performance of private/charter schools are also another controversial talking point. These schools are typically run by private boards and organizations that create their own curriculum. Over the years, there’s been a rise in charter schools misusing public funds: embezzlement, fraud, etc. If charter schools were to become a norm, we would need much better oversight pointed in that direction. Private schools are different because they don’t abide by any government regulations since they are funded privately. Depending on the school, they can specialize in the arts, engineering, foreign languages, or religion. Their curriculum is completely up to them and they are allowed to teach whatever they like to students, which means their standards are also completely up to them. What does this mean for us? Well, if in the next few years school choice becomes a more prominent initiative, a lot of the local public schools are going to be shut down. In the long run, that will influence how college admissions work. If more and more kids go to private and charter schools that look better on record, lower income students stuck in underprivileged public schools will have less of an opportunity to succeed.
The future of education lies in the hands of Devos and the states that follow in her footsteps. Regardless of what may come, I hope that those in our government recognize that education is the most important weapon we can give our children. We need to make sure all children are receiving the highest quality education, not just some.