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Beating the public school system

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes about how the school choice issue was front and center for her struggling single mom [1]before it was a big deal nationally. Her mom basically lied to get her daughter into a better school instead of the one the state picked out for the girl. Excerpt:

I write this so many years later because right now, the school choice debate is leaving out people like my mother: parents who embrace choice because they believe they have no other choice. It is a conversation that happens largely among highly educated people in fancy conference rooms and on lofty campaign platforms, in highbrow publications and among rarefied circles.

… I wonder now what my mother would have made of today’s school choice discussion and the passions it stirs on all sides. (She passed away not long after I finished elementary school.) I think she would have been surprised to see so many of her fellow self-identifying liberals, usually so sympathetic to cash-strapped parents, fighting to keep her from exercising the choice she felt was her right as a taxpayer and her duty as a mother.

For my part, I find it remarkable that many who support the status quo with such ardor vigorously exercise their own choice by sending their children to expensive private institutions gated off from public school hoi polloi. But I know my mother also would have found it surprising that people who otherwise think little about poor kids today embrace vouchers with the kind of ideological fervor those on the other side once reserved for the gold standard.

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22 Comments To "Beating the public school system"

#1 Comment By Pilgrim On January 27, 2012 @ 10:30 am

Thanks to Jon Peterson, former Ohio House representative, a Special Needs scholarship is going to give parents of children on IEPs more options next year. I think registration starts Feb. 1, 2012.
Students with autism have had this option for several years, as a pilot program. This has been a blessing for some families.

Capped at 5% of state’s students with special needs.

#2 Comment By Bruce Ross On January 27, 2012 @ 10:40 am

Where I live in a relatively rural part of California, there’s a rich array of publicly funded charter schools and all the schools are, essentially, open enrollment — though the popular schools and districts fill up. Under state law, the money follows the student — as conservatives advocate. Some districts generate very high local property taxes without state aid and thus don’t want outsiders crowding up the classrooms, but generally speaking the schools compete vigorously for students. This, obviously, is in the ultimate blue state.

That’s a long preface to short question: Is school choice not the rule in most places by now?

#3 Comment By Skrifara On January 27, 2012 @ 10:46 am

In the current state of things, teachers can get caught in a miserable ethical dilemma: parents who have used someone else’s address to get their children into a better school sometmes absent-mindedly put their real address on a form. What does a teacher who cares about kids and also about fairness do then? I don’t have an answer (other than “make all schools equally good”) but I know how some teachers agonize when it happens with caring, low income parents.

#4 Comment By Mont D. Law On January 27, 2012 @ 11:35 am

[But I know my mother also would have found it surprising that people who otherwise think little about poor kids today embrace vouchers with the kind of ideological fervor those on the other side once reserved for the gold standard.]

The conservative enthusiasm for charter schools has nothing to do with a concern for poor kids. It is an attempt to restructure the system so they can keep their kids away from poor kids.

[For my part, I find it remarkable that many who support the status quo with such ardor vigorously exercise their own choice by sending their children to expensive private institutions gated off from public school hoi polloi.]

Opposing charter schools is not the same as supporting the status quo. And defending a deteriorating public service that you have the resources to avoid and which impacts you not at all doesn’t make you evil. It makes you a hero.

#5 Comment By Connie On January 27, 2012 @ 11:42 am

In Wisconsin, there is total PUBLIC school choice. You can apply for enrollment in any school district, and will almost always be accepted. (Of course, transportation becomes a burden that the parents must then assume.) Most people, liberals included, don’t have problems with this kind of system. It sounds like this is roughly what the author of that article did.

What we find objectionable is paying PUBLIC tax dollars to send students to private/religious schools. If Rod can’t even understand those fundamentals of the school choice debate, he shouldn’t be posting on it.

#6 Comment By Connie On January 27, 2012 @ 11:47 am

Debates about school choice tend to ignore the problems in rural districts that are geographically large. No one is going to open a charter school in northern Wisconsin (or Montana, or Michigan’s UP) where the district is struggling to educate 300 students who are distributed over 500 square miles. Alaska, I guess, has solved this problem by providing virtual education and essentially paying parents to homeschool. These are the students whose needs are ignored.

#7 Comment By Mike On January 27, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

I wonder whether Gayle Tzemach Lemmon really understands what the school choice debate is about. As others have said, school choice likely exists in some form in whatever town she lives in when it comes to public schools, assuming she doesn’t live in rural North Dakota. The debate is over government money paying for private schools (usually religious) and whether that’s responsible use of public funds.

#8 Comment By Public Defender On January 27, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

Religious conservatives should be more cautious is pushing for vouchers. If the state pays, the state gets to impose conditions. Many churches already complain about the conditions placed on the 501(c)(3) status they chose to apply for. The conditions for straight aid could be even more onerous.

In some ways, that’s fair. If I pay for the instruction at a school, I should get some say in how that money’s spent.

Religious conservatives who complain about the government taking their liberty shouldn’t be so eager to sell that liberty for a few pieces of silver.

#9 Comment By Franklin Evans On January 27, 2012 @ 1:42 pm

Learn about unfunded mandates, my friends. Here’s a nice example from Arlington, MA: [2]

The numbers and conclusions are, of course, arguable. What is a fact is that over a period of decades school districts have been required to deliver more services for the same or less money. Parents will complain quietly, if at all, about art classes and music lessons being cancelled to free up money for the mandates, but no administrator would dare touch sports until forced into it by imminent bankruptcy. Once all of the “unnecessary” stuff was gone — leaving, of course, the “necessary” sports — the list of mandates continued to grow or existing ones expanded.

So, you modern parents out there. Do we old folks a favor, if you please. Refrain from blaming a gutted* and reeling** system for not being able to deliver the services you demand for your children. Look instead to ask them why they can’t, and what you might be able to do — as a group, not as individuals — to help them.

* By the knives of politicians the vast majority of whom don’t live in your school district and couldn’t care less about it compared to where they do live.

** Unions bear a part of the blame, no doubt about it. Balance that, if you will, with teachers volunteering en masse to work without pay while the district fights with those very same politicians whose districts have more than enough cash for sports, but can’t relax some purse string to help them make next week’s payroll.

#10 Comment By Susan Mc On January 27, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

And that, Public Defender, is why I’ll never accept a tax deduction or break on my homeschooling expenses. As you say, it is only fair.

#11 Comment By economista On January 27, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

Connie said:

“In Wisconsin, there is total PUBLIC school choice. You can apply for enrollment in any school district, and will almost always be accepted. (Of course, transportation becomes a burden that the parents must then assume.) Most people, liberals included, don’t have problems with this kind of system.”

And you say Rod doesn’t understand the fundamentals of the school choice debate? Many liberals have a problem with the kind of system you describe. They have a fundamental problem with parents being able to create public charter schools open to all students, but not under the school district’s administration, because (1) it takes money away from unionized teachers and school district administrators, and (2) they think that it’s the responsibility of competent parents and high-achieving students to improve the classroom environment for the rest of the bunch.

I would suggest watching “Waiting For Superman” and then coming back and revising your post.

#12 Comment By Polichinello On January 27, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

The conservative enthusiasm for charter schools has nothing to do with a concern for poor kids. It is an attempt to restructure the system so they can keep their kids away from poor kids.

Please, they had a near white riot in Manhattan when some changes in school lines were proposed that would bring in the “wrong” sort of student, and I have no doubt that this very same group voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

#13 Comment By David J. White On January 27, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

What we find objectionable is paying PUBLIC tax dollars to send students to private/religious schools.

PUBLIC tax money comes from the public, right? The public is composed people — including the parents who want to send their children to private/religious schools. Since these parents are among the taxpayers, why shouldn’t their considerations and wishes be taken into account.

You make it sound as if the PUBLIC tax money is coming from one place, and the parents who want to send their children to private/religious schools are coming from a completely different place. These parents are part of your PUBLIC.

#14 Comment By Rob On January 27, 2012 @ 5:54 pm

The conservative enthusiasm for charter schools has nothing to do with a concern for poor kids. It is an attempt to restructure the system so they can keep their kids away from poor kids.

Yup, those nasty, greedy conservatives–they want public education reforms solely so they can avoid sullying their children in the presence of the unwashed poor. You’ve nailed the movement and its motivations, Mont D. Law, with an astounding degree of charity.

Come off it.

#15 Comment By MIke On January 27, 2012 @ 6:18 pm

Since these parents are among the taxpayers, why shouldn’t their considerations and wishes be taken into account.

Understood. But if I never use the police and instead want a private guard, I don’t expect to be able to get a government voucher to pay for my private guard.

I’m sympathetic to poor parents who want to use vouchers and would be more willing to consider means testing of government vouchers. But there are still huge problems with shifting public dollars to private schools, especially when most of them are religious and those dollars become a government entanglement.

#16 Comment By Franklin Evans On January 27, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

David J. White: The public is composed people…

Yes, including people who don’t have children or whose children no longer go to public schools. They all pay taxes from which public schools are funded.

You need a significant change in several laws in order to give people with children special treatment. Good luck with that.

David, I apologize (even while I leave the above intact). Your argument is exactly what childless people bring out in local taxes-to-schools debates. Either this society as a whole funds public eduction, or it doesn’t. Everything else is just noise.

There is a major factor here that few people know and fewer people bring to light. In Pennsylvania (that being the state I can assert about) and in most if not all the other states, private schools that do not provide one or more mandated services — special education a prime example — can and do by law seek those services from the public school districts in which they exist should the parents of those children request those services. Taxpayer money is already being spent for children who go to private schools.

#17 Comment By Bruce Ross On January 28, 2012 @ 12:14 am

“The conservative enthusiasm for charter schools has nothing to do with a concern for poor kids. It is an attempt to restructure the system so they can keep their kids away from poor kids.”

As others have said, that’s not necessarily only a conservative wish. Sadly, the effect — though I honestly don’t think the goal — of school choice is to foster middle-class aspiring parents’ abandonment of mixed-income neighborhood schools. And, yes, that really does sap the social capital that would be available to those less behind. And, yes, to mention a recent post on this blog, it speeds the separation of Belmont and Fishtown.

I don’t object for a moment to any parent’s decision to do what they think is best for their kid, but the social effect is real. And yes, this is personal. My neighborhood school would really benefit from the presence of a few of the type-A moms who’ve opted for the arts-oriented charter school across town.

#18 Comment By Surly On January 28, 2012 @ 1:53 am

Where I live, the big urban public school system has been contorting itself to attract middle class white and Asian families back since their disastrous forced busing program destroyed middle class support of the schools back in the late ’70’s. Every year the pandering gets worse, as does the corruption.

The interesting paradox here is that moving north of the city limits yields some excellent public schools in communities with lower average housing prices. To be fair, property taxes are higher (because these suburban districts have voted to pass every school levy). This is counter-intuitive–one would expect neighborhoods with good public schools to have a premium, but here that does not seem to be the case–perhaps because of the fact that couples with school-age children are a smaller percentage of the population than he average US city.

We did the math in 1999 and moved out of the city and into a suburb with an excellent school district. Part of it was pure logistics–not many four bedroom houses with double garages exist in NE Seattle and the ones that do exist sell for a huge premium. But in Shoreline they are a dime a dozen–and BONUS! Great schools.

#19 Comment By Peterk On January 28, 2012 @ 9:50 am

“The debate is over government money paying for private schools (usually religious) and whether that’s responsible use of public funds.”

after WW2 the GI Bill could be used at any educational institutional secular or religious. if a parochial school is better at educating young minds then why shouldn’t a parent be allowed to use a voucher at that school.

#20 Comment By Franklin Evans On January 29, 2012 @ 10:59 am

Peter, there is the glaring (if not obvious to all) difference between K-12 public schools and post-secondary schools: Children are by law required to attend. Adults voluntarily decide to apply to post-secondary schools.

I’m not a lawyer, and someone with scholarly or case-law knowledge is welcome to correct me, but the de facto coercion of truancy laws precludes any valid comparison to the GI Bill or similar benefits offered to adults. Further, as a legal mandate, public education is primarily subject to both support from and restrictions from the Bill of Rights and other statutes. No one has a right to college, whatever the prevailing PC “wisdom” might say.

#21 Comment By Stef On January 30, 2012 @ 9:44 pm

No, it is not “the school the state picked out for her daughter.” It is the school *she* picked out for her daughter, by choosing as a parent/adult where to live.

If people from outside the district want to enroll their children in districts like mine, let them pay my property tax rates. Or completely detach school funding from property tax rates at all – in which case, pretty much everyone who can provide the *voluntary* amenities which make public school districts any good, will retreat from those districts entirely.

So, good luck with what’s left over.

#22 Comment By Annek On September 17, 2013 @ 10:22 pm

Connie:

“In Wisconsin, there is total PUBLIC school choice. You can apply for enrollment in any school district, and will almost always be accepted. (Of course, transportation becomes a burden that the parents must then assume.) Most people, liberals included, don’t have problems with this kind of system. It sounds like this is roughly what the author of that article did.”

Because of Wisconsin’s system of school choice, my sister enrolled her daughter in a private school, after having had her in a public one up through the middle of 3rd grade. Her daughter was not getting a good education and was becoming increasingly frustrated in school. My sister was appalled at the writing standards and the math her daughter was being taught (or not taught). When she told her daughter’s teacher in the middle of third grade that she was going to switch her to a private school, the teacher told her she was making a great decision. This was in a school district that is in an affluent community, but has a bit of economic diversity due to school choice.

School choice is not all it’s cracked up to be.