I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

School Choice: The Future of American Public Education

As a sitting school board member that strongly supports school choice-I know this position puts me in the minority of my peers.  I think the system needs to change.   But it’s much easier for those who control educational decisions at the state and local level to stick with that which is most familiar, and to simply request more and more taxpayer funding to do things the very same way they have always done them.   And the results are, in many instances, not good enough.  Parents want to send their kids to the very best schools, not the schools some bureaucrat tells them they can attend!

Countries around the world are spending less per pupil and achieving better outcomes than we are-and in order to compete with this worldwide educational renaissance, we must innovate and empower parents to choose the right school for their children.  The future of the public school system in America depends upon our willingness to listen to our constituents and evolve; we need to offer a wide assortment of choices and options to all students-to include virtual, traditional, vocational, technical, and even private schools.  Taxpayer funded education for students is a right, and I believe it is a right that we owe the parents—not to a governmental system that in many respects fails.  The entrenched special interests, the educational bureaucracy, and certain politicians believe the exact opposite.  They look at choice as a nuisance or a “scheme” to take funding “from the public schools.”   They look at public expenditures to school districts as “their money”.  Reformers like me believe parents should be in charge, and be empowered to make  educational decisions based upon what is best for their own children.  I would like to see the system evolve to a point where economic market forces were allowed to operate, and parents could choose to take their own tax money and send their students to the best school they could find.  Reformers like me believe that being proactive with choice offerings is the only way to save the public school system.  Otherwise-the way society is evolving, the gap between the educational haves and have nots will continue to widen; The bloated, inefficient, and in many instances ineffective, public school system will collapse of its own weight in many areas of our nation, particularly in areas of extreme, concentrated generational poverty in urban areas…

Education in twenty to thirty years will look very different than it does today.  Homeschooling will continue to grow, and parents with means will in many cases and in many communities choose to pay the extra money necessary to send their students to private school-where they are confident about things such as curriculum, rigor, quality, and SAFETY.  Meanwhile, many middle class and poor students will be left with only limited and less effective school options-which will eventually prompt a demand for change to allow these parents to send their students to the schools they want to utilizing vouchers or “backpack funding.” Why should taxpayers not be able to have free choice as to where they want to send their children with their own tax money? This change is coming; it is only a matter of time.

The failing public schools in Washington DC utilized the Opportunity Scholarship program with great results.  The opportunity scholarship program allowed families who were zoned to failing public schools to take their tax subsidized tuition vouchers and choose a better, more effective school.  The program was very successful.  Democratic politicians scuttled the program.

Here in Florida, the McKay Scholarship program has been very successful in allowing parents of special needs students to send their children to the school of their choice.  Again, a very successful program.

Milwaukee, WI, has a progressive school choice program as well.

At a recent school choice symposium sponsored by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the school choice successes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin were spotlighted.  Milwaukee has some of the most forward-thinking policies on choice in the nation.  Put simply-if you are in a failing public school attendance zone in Milwaukee-you can choose to have your kids go to any other school, public or private, at no expense to you.  And the program has been in existence for more than 20 years.  Students in extreme poverty have thrived under these systems in Milwaukee at schools like the Hope Academy, which is comprised of 98% African American students and The United Community Center, which is 99% Hispanic.  Both of these schools, Hope and UCC, have free lunch populations that exceed 95%.  And the test scores of students that attend both of these choice schools beat the test scores of the students in Milwaukee Public Schools.
Who would oppose effective school choice programs for poverty stricken students caught in failing public school districts?
At a legislative briefing I attended in Milwaukee, it was conveyed that organized political opposition from the political left was hard at work to contain the successful Milwaukee Voucher program.  The Wisconsin Education Association was/is hard at work trying to defeat politicians and school board members who support school choice.  Very sad, that a program that benefits the poorest minority students and helps them achieve great results is being undermined by an organization that purports to support education?!?. Sad.

But this is not surprising.  Organized unions that are supported by taxpayer funded dues-payments know that many private schools (most private schools) are non-union and therefore, it is in the interest of such unions to staunchly oppose any initiative that would allow parents and students to choose private schools—even if these schools are better for parents and students.  It is all about power and money to these special interest political activist unions, and the most important thing is to keep the school system growing with taxpayer money which in turn flows into union coffers.   Of course they don’t mention this in their web-site talking points against vouchers.   From the NEA website   

NEA opposes school vouchers because they divert essential resources from public schools to private and religious schools

If it is all about students and their success-the NEA and their affiliates should support the right of students and parents to choose the very best schools for their kids-whether public, private, or religious.  Sadly-It’s not about what is best for kids, though.  It is about what is best for the union.

I want that system to change.  I think the system will change.  I’m convinced it MUST change. 

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