School Choice from a Leftist’s Point of View
Well…it’s that time of the year again. Back-to-school ads are everywhere on TV, the internet, and even in newspapers. Back-to-school shopping. Families all over the United States are probably having to choose which supplies would be the best for their children — scissors, notebooks, binders, etc. If you live in Arizona, you might be choosing which school your children will be going to.
Yes, Arizona’s legislature has recently passed the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program, or ESA. This program will give $6,500 to any family who feels as if public education isn’t the right choice for their children. It’s America’s most expansive school choice initiative, and people all around have a lot to say about this matter and about school choices in general — myself included.
School choice, as the name implies, allows parents to choose whatever school may benefit their children the most via educational tax dollars. Most of our educational tax dollars are being spent on public schools — some of them with failing grades and low graduation rates. That’s because most parents are forced to send their children to the public school closest to where they live, even if it does mean that the child may not be able to succeed as well.
Not only that, but the government is deciding what children will learn and how they will learn it with no say from the parents, despite the parents being the ones paying the taxes themselves. How is that fair for the parents and the children? If the parents are paying taxes for their children’s education, then shouldn’t they get at least somewhat of a say in what their children are learning? America is a free country after all, isn’t it?
If parents were able to choose which schools they want to send their children to, then that might incite other schools, particularly public schools, to reevaluate what they’re teaching their students and how they’re teaching these subjects. That’ll be an incentive to improve on themselves and better their students’ results in comparison to other schools — kind of like a competition.
When you compete in something, and you lose to someone better, that might give you an incentive to improve on your skills. Businesses do this all the time; they compete with each other to see who has the best product. McDonald’s vs. Burger King, Apple vs. Samsung, CVS vs. Walgreens, and so many other comparisons I can make. If we don’t have any healthy competitions, then how can we be motivated to improve on ourselves? It’s the same way with schools. Underperforming public schools, especially in low-income and disadvantaged communities, don’t have the motivation to improve on themselves because they don’t have to worry about losing too much funding.
And if schools are forced to improve on themselves due to school choice, then they’ll have to focus on what’s best for the child. And really, isn’t that what education should be about? What’s best for the child? Shouldn’t we want our children to do well in school and life — better than we have? This is America; that’s the whole point of the American dream, isn’t it? To start from the bottom and make it to the top? That’s what we want for all of our children, right? Especially for the most disadvantaged, like disabled children and those living in poverty.
“But Emily, wouldn’t school choice hurt our most disadvantaged children?” you might be asking. And that’s a fair point, but let me tell you a story. When I first started receiving occupational and speech therapy in preschool/kindergarten, my occupational therapist at the time recommended my mother to send me to a school in a different city because that was where the therapist usually worked at. Ultimately, I ended up staying at the same school in the city I grew up in (something about transportation being an issue), but I often wonder if going to that different school would’ve given me a better education. I was supposed to receive speech therapy until I was at least in middle school, but I stopped receiving that when I finished the first grade.
My school may have had some nice stuff, but they clearly didn’t have the right equipment to best help out someone like me. And really, I feel as if that’s the reality for many disabled children — that the schools closest to them don’t have the right equipment or help for their needs. Let’s go back to that school choice decision in Arizona. Did you know that Arizona was the first state in America to create an ESA — back in 2011? That’s a long time ago by school choice standards! But, did you know that the only students who could apply for that program were disabled students, students in low-performing schools, or students living in Indian reservations?
If school choice can improve these students’ educations, then imagine how much better other students can do if they were able to receive the educations that suits them best! And with Arizona’s school choice program being the broadest out of any other state, many won’t have to worry about educational technology and transportation. If Mississippi had had that back in the 2000s, then my mother and I wouldn’t have had to worry about any of that, and I may have been able to have gone to that other school where my original therapist had been. Who knows? Maybe I would’ve been about a 1,000x better off had I gone to that other school!
I think many other disabled and disadvantaged people may be in the same boat as I am. They may have been in the same situation as I was when I was a kid, and they may often wonder if they would’ve been better off going to that other school. There are so many kids right now with a ton of potential and talent sitting in some low-performing school with all of their potential and talent being wasted. And many of those kids in those low-performing schools are children of color. Now, I know that there are other factors as to why people of color may not succeed as well as their white or lighter-skinned counterparts, but education should not be a factor in this. Every person, no matter what color their skin is, should have the best education possible.
Income should also not factor in the outcome of a child’s education. Why should one child be stuck in a low-performing school with their potential and talent being wasted while another child rises to the top with their educational needs met? America is supposed to be an equal-opportunity country, and we need to prove that with our education just like we do with other things. All children should receive the best education suited to their needs because the children are our future. If the children aren’t able to receive any proper education, then what good is anything when these children eventually grow up and face the real world?
Many people often say that the United States should be like European or first-world countries when it comes to education, but the fact of the matter is that many European and first-world countries do actually implement school choice — kind of. Countries like Australia and South Korea have around a quarter of their students attending government-funded private schools, Portugal’s Ministry of Education finances the entirety of the public sector with the states subsidizing each student in private schools, and countries such as England, Germany, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, and Sweden all have public funding for education, making it possible for parents to choose schools with religious characters. School choice is even a constitutional right in Belgium, Ireland, and the Netherlands.
Even countries way poorer than the United States offer school choice. For example, India’s private schools make up 21.2% of all schools in the country, with more than a quarter of them being publicly supported — as in, taxpayers pay for these schools. Pakistan’s Punjab Education Foundation is charged with improving education via public-private partnership developments, with the most successful project being the Education Vouchers Scheme supporting over 10,000 students at 52 different schools. Bangladesh coves 80% of private school teachers’ salary with a program. Chile has both public and private schools financed via vouchers. Ivory Coast, or Cote d’Ivoire, gives subsidies to private schools per students enrolled. Students there can pick whatever school they want to attend as long as they make it over the entrance restrictions. In Cameroon, faith-based private schools are given subsidies for accepting poor students.
And do you know what? These school choice programs have done wonders for these students. Sweden, who has had school choice for all students since the early 1990s, has a correlation of improved math scores and increase of private school attendances. Chile is known for its robust school choice program for the past few decades due to its improvement of language and science scores. In Pakistan, vouchers students, all from disadvantaged backgrounds, showed equal amounts of academic success in comparison to middle-class students. Not only that, but parents there can negotiate for better services and teachers, making school transfers easier because the country’s program is used in multiple schools in any given geographical area. Even then, money from each voucher is left over to improve schools and teachers’ salaries.
When school starts back up this year or any future year, maybe school choice will be expanded more upon the United States for each child. And really, I think that’s the best for the younger generations. Children deserve the education best suited to their needs, especially those in disadvantaged backgrounds or those with disabilities. That way, the children can improve their education and provide a better world for all of us. Not only that, but if children can go to schools best suited for their needs, then schools will have to compete with each other and improve on their shortcomings. That way, schools all over can provide the best education possible — just like in many other countries.