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School Choice: A Q&A
By David W. Kirkpatrick (August 28, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us
As various school choice programs continue to develop across the nation a review of related issues might be helpful.
Q. Why should school choice become universal?
A. It's a constitutional right. In 1925 a 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court, saying "the child is not the creature of the state," ruled that no child can be legally compelled to attend government schools if parents use another option.
On June 27, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court formally settled the issue when it upheld Ohio's voucher program for Cleveland. The majority all agreed upon a single written opinion, giving it the rule of law.
Exercising choice is, and long has been, a standard practice for those who can afford it. Only low-income families are denied such options.
Q. Why not limit choice to government schools?
A. This would make school choice analogous to the time when Henry Ford's allegedly said buyers could have a Ford in any color they wanted as long as it was black.
Q. Won't state support of school choice divert funds from government schools?
A. Not necessarily. A decade ago the Pennsylvania General Assembly adopted a budget that included funds for a voucher program. When the legislature subsequently failed to pass enabling legislation, the appropriated money lapsed at the end of the fiscal year, returning to the state's general fund. It was neither taken from nor later used to fund the government schools.
Q. What effect will the passage of school choice legislation have on government schools? Independent schools? Educating children in general?
A. It can result in improvements in all three categories. With schools directly responsible to students and parents, as in higher education, there will be less need for government to establish mandates attempting to make government schools better -- an effort that has been demonstrably unsuccessful.
Q. Is it fair for independent schools to practice selective admission/retention, while government schools
must accept all students?
A. In actual fact it is public schools that restrict admission, to students who live in the district and to particular schools. For years the nation's largest government school districts have student bodies that are primarily minority. Independent schools accept students without regard to geography, and even offer scholarships to assure a diversified student body. Government schools do not do this.
Not only that, large school districts commonly maintain individual schools that practice selective admissions, such as Stuyvesant High School in New York City and Central High School in Philadelphia.
Furthermore, an almost universal practice in government schools is internal selective admission/retention, which finds three curriculum tracks within high schools -- college prep, vocational and general -- that tend to segregate students by race and income.
Then, too, government schools are not required to retain or educate all students. The public school dropout rate, often a push-out rate, is estimated to approximate 30%, much higher than in private schools. Government schools also send many special students to private schools. Independent schools accept nearly all applicants, space available, and their retention rate is high. Some time ago, it was reported that minority graduates from independent schools attend college at a higher rate than white graduates from government schools.
Aside from that, choice legislation can prohibit selective admission. Participating schools are often required to accept applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. If there are more applicants than openings, selection may be made by drawing lots.
Q. Is school choice common?
A. Yes, and as the 1925 Supreme Court ruling made clear, it is a constitutional right. But it is means tested. That is, those who have the means have it, those that do not, don't. Affluent parents have choice that isn't usually recognized because most of them live in wealthier school districts. Schools in these districts have been described as private schools in public school disguise since the great majority of citizens cannot afford to live there. It is only those with inadequate incomes who are compelled to use an assigned school, however inadequate.
Q. Is school choice a panacea?
A. No, but it isn't competing with any panacea.
Q. Why should any students be required to attend a school where they are unhappy or unsuccessful?
A. Good question.
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"All truth passes through three states. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, (1788-1860) cited, p. 17 The Week, June 13, 2008
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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633