It’s a trap?! School choice opponents contradict themselves

Travis Pillow

Sometimes, school choice opponents argue it leads to underpaid teachers and children taught on the cheap. At the same time, they often argue it drains much-needed funding from public schools.

As Mike McShane points out for U.S. News & World Report, it seems they contradict themselves — or perhaps they’re luring school choice supporters into a rhetorical trap.

When critics accuse school vouchers or tuition tax credits programs of “taking money from public schools,” school choice advocates can point out that almost every program in the country allows only a fraction of a student’s per-pupil allotment to follow that student. For example, in Indiana, the voucher for low-income students is capped at 90 percent of the state’s contribution toward a child’s education. All of the locally raised tax dollars stay in the traditional public school system.

But once this concern is put to rest, critics pivot to other questions: Do schools have adequate services for students with special needs? Do they provide transportation? Are they in old or outdated buildings? Do they have the technology, science labs and other infrastructure that modern schools need?

This resonates in Florida, where the League of Women Voters has cited both arguments in a single press release attacking tax credit scholarships, which the group is challenging in two separate court cases. (Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post, helps administer the scholarships.)

Neerav Kingsland, meanwhile, catches the National Education Association tying itself in rhetorical knots over charter schools.

I believe that charter school teachers should have the right to organize.

If I were a charter school teacher, I would not affiliate with any union whose leaders publicly state that charter schools steal money from public schools. Nor would I affiliate with any union whose local sites sue to prevent charter schools from existing.

Here’s one way to resolve these contradictions: Teachers, wherever they teach, are entitled to adequate compensation, fair working conditions, and respect for their professionalism. Students, wherever they learn, are entitled to educational resources commensurate with their needs. This should apply in all schools — private or public, district or charter. McShane suggests weighted-funding mechanisms could help make this possible.

It’s hard to talk about making school choice options more equitable, for students and school employees, while also trying to argue they shouldn’t even exist.

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