I think I am hearing most, or all, of the Republican candidates advocating school choice. I understand there is inequity of quality of education in many cities and rural areas. I don’t know if you appreciate how fortunate we are to have great school districts in an affluent county with well-educated parents motivated to support public schools.
Most Liberals and Conservatives are advocates of choice in principle, but maybe not in practical application. We are debating what government should do and what should be left to private enterprise and churches. We often think of socialism and capitalism as opposing dichotomies. We learned early in our history that education could not be left to churches, private enterprise, and parents. We decided that it was the role of government to provide education for all children, and require by law compulsory attendance.
School choice allows parents to choose alternatives to public schools—church affiliated private schools, secular private schools, and home schools. With that there are some standards of accreditation and scope of curriculum and subject areas. This is the essence of parental choice.
The first option of choice is to attend another public school. In Williamson County and Franklin Special schools there is minimal difference in the student performance. Our schools are divided by proximity in transportation zones and grade level configuration. Some options of out of zone attendance are available when space is available. We build our schools to accommodate population growth. To allow students to attend their public school of choice is impossible logistically.
With that comes the obligation of the school district to provide the same quality of teaching skills, textbooks, technology, support services, and academic requirements. The statistical results of standardized tests and extracurricular success are based on student performance. When high performing and low performing students transfer, the test scores follow the students. Charter school test scores are consistent with the students who choose to attend those schools. The obligation of the school district is to provide equal academic opportunities where the students live.
A second option is to transfer tax revenue to religious schools. Most people would agree that this is not consistent with the First Amendment and our history of court decisions. It is not the role or right of government to provide a religious curriculum.
Most private schools, secular or affiliated with a denomination have tuitions that far exceed the cost per pupil expenditure of public schools. This would in effect be a subsidy to upper income parents who have chosen prestigious private schools and academies. These schools do not provide access to low income or special needs students, or students who cannot pass entrance exams.
Full implementation of school choice would also include home schools affiliated with home school providers of curriculum and standards of accountability. Home school students are educated outside the jurisdiction and accountability of the local school district. All parents home school their children with their variable skills and motivation of their children’s areas of skills and interest. Without some oversight and accountability of curriculum and student performance, no public funds should be available to students who choose not to attend public schools.
We don’t want to go back to the days before public education. America has a long way to go to catch up with a few developed countries that have more rigorous academic standards and longer school days and longer school years. The problem is not with teachers unions, or textbooks, or the lack of religious instruction. The problem is with our culture and our desire for academic and intellectual excellence and willingness to fund it.