Ever since social justice advocates joined forces with free-market conservatives to create the groundbreaking Milwaukee Parental Choice program in the early ’90s, there have been ideological divides in the school choice movement.
Because most places have fewer school options than parents want, and private school choice programs have usually targeted disadvantaged students in some way, similar left-right coalitions have formed all over the country.
Howard Fuller sits squarely in the social justice camp. When other private school choice supporters try to make eligibility universal, he often objects, on behalf of disadvantaged students he fears will be short-changed and in support of principles staked out by the late Polly Williams and others who helped create the Milwaukee voucher program.
Hence his concerns about the new, near-universal education savings account program recently created in Nevada. In our latest podcast interview, Fuller says this sort of intramural debate is almost inevitable in a movement that spans ideological boundaries.
“The only way we could have avoided that would have been to say we’re not going to have parent choice for low-income people, because you couldn’t get to where we got to without pulling together the type of coalition that was pulled together,” he says.
Despite their philosophical differences, Fuller can find some agreement with those, like Matthew Ladner, who support universal eligibility.
Fuller says it can make sense to offer scholarships to some families higher on the income scale, especially if funding levels are “graduated” so they receive smaller amounts. That can help build a stronger base of political support. However, he says, there should still be a cut-off at some point, so school choice programs aren’t subsidizing private-school tuition for the wealthy.