Pratt: The self-defeating arguments against school choice

It is like those congregants who wrongly confuse a building as being the Church.

What is? Confusing buildings, organizations, and traditions with being the essence of public education. In reality public education is simply a public political commitment to provide schooling to all children without regard to each family’s ability to pay and paying for such by taxing all including those not directly consuming the education. There is nothing in that commitment that requires the use of any particular model of delivery of schooling.

A building or district is not “public education.”

How is “public education” diminished by using public funds to send students to schools formed and operated outside of the government service delivery model? Put another way: How is letting parents send their children to any type of school, government, private, for-profit, not-for-profit, religious, or secular, an abandonment of public education as long as such choice is open to all the public and paid for by the public?

“The Houston Federation of Teachers is one of the largest teacher unions in the state, with over 6,000 teachers and in-school support staff in the group. In reaction to Texas leadership’s inaugural comments [favoring school choice,] HFT officials said they aren’t buying it,” reported the Houston Chronicle.

“[Texas lawmakers] are continuing to rob the public schools and send money to private charters and are trying to privatize our schools,” Jackie Anderson, President of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said. “They are starving us to death, and then they wonder why we don’t meet certain accountability standards,” the Chronicle’s story read.

The argument that our current public school model is being starved to death is so far from reality that it discredits those making such. “In 2018, the United States spent $14,400 per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student on elementary and secondary education, which was 34 percent higher than the average of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries of $10,800 (in constant 2020 U.S. dollars),” reports the government’s National Center for Educational Statistics.

In fact, among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, taxpayers in the USA spend significantly more per student than almost every country including high social welfare spending countries such as the UK, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Canada, and a long list of others. (See: )

So having put that too-little-money shibboleth of the government public school lobby and its cheerleaders aside, let’s return to the issue of a parental choice model of public education in which parents can use their children’s share of public education funds to send those students to any school of their choice which agrees to accept public funding.

If we had a hospital that had high infection or fatality rates are we, as customers or with family members going for treatment, to just ignore those problems because the medical staff and administrators tell us all is wonderful? Should we feel obligated to send our children, spouses, and parents to that hospital just because it might be our town’s biggest employer or because of tradition? What if, instead of actually solving the infection or fatality rates, the hospital administration just changed program names every few years and blamed the public for not giving them more money?

We have hundreds of public school campuses and districts that, like that metaphorical hospital, fail parents, children, and taxpayers year after year, and yet the pretend solutions are usually grade and campus shuffles, as well as other specific tricks, that fix nothing but delay disclosure of the failures by resetting the clocks that count down to state intervention. And it goes without saying that all along the way and in most cases the demand from the school officials is more money from taxpayers.

The only reason public education, as we now know it, would be hurt by authentic public school choice is if those beloved schools are not as good, or beloved, as many claim.

More directly, it is the schools, their administrators, employees, and naïve civic cheerleader backers, who tell us repeatedly and loudly, without meaning so to do, why we need a wholesale change to the systems delivering taxpayer funded education to the public.

When these people tell us, as they do constantly, that a competitive market in which parents are free to direct the funds intended for the education of their children to their choice of schools, including models outside of the traditional government school district, would ruin public education, they are telling us that if given true choice a highly significant number of parents would not choose the traditional institutions which currently hold a near-monopoly on public education.

How is it lost on so many that the base argument, that real school choice will hurt the traditional school bureaucracies, is an outright admission that the status quo model of delivering public education is not working for a large number of families and that a huge number of parents would take their education money elsewhere if given the opportunity.

In Texas currently, we even have Republican champions of school choice claiming that rural districts need some type of exemption from competition, seemingly unaware that, if true, such an argument actually proves the need for competition.

If rural districts are the beloved centers of communities and notably different from perennially failing urban districts, why is there reason to believe parents would, en masse, gut their own small communities by moving their children to other schools? If that would happen it is, again, an admission on the face of things that those schools too are failing the public such were formed to serve.

If this is a great classroom, why insist parents would choose to pull their children from it if given real choice?

It is time that those who love their local traditional public school and believe it to be high quality accept, if their judgement is correct, that their school has little to fear from true education choice by parents. It’s also time for people to admit the logic of their own arguments against school choice: The only reason public education, as we now know it, would be hurt by authentic public school choice is if those beloved schools are not as good, or beloved, as many claim.

The previous paragraph is an effective place to end this polemic for real school choice but having been around this issue for decades there is another point that needs to be expressed.

Fundamentally, despite many different ways of putting it, there seem to be only two ultimate answers offered to counter the points I have made about school choice and those answers, or arguments, are two sides of the same coin of ugly arrogance. The first is that many parents don’t really know what is best for their children and the second is that people, always people other than the speaker, aren’t really smart, experienced, intelligent, etc. enough to well exercise choice.

I want to offer this rejoinder to that pseudo-elitist position: If you believe that a large plurality of parents are not competent to well exercise school choice in a way that is best for their children, then it should follow that you oppose our republic and its tools of democracy too. How could people unable to act in the best interest of their families be competent enough to wisely cast votes for people and policies that decide things as complex as economics, law, justice, foreign policy, and the whole gamut of items decided at ballot boxes?

Another piece you may wish to read, coming at the issue from a different angle, is: The results are in: School choice works, by Texas Tech’s Alexander William Salter

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  1. “students to any school of their choice which agrees to accept public funding.”

    So that’s public school to public school – Estacado to Cooper. LCHS and Trinity will not participate as they don’t take state funding. As long as public school money doesn’t go to private schools. As a former high school principal I’ve got some strong opinions on this topic. Would be glad to sit down and discuss the subject sometime if you’re interested.

    • Pratt on Texas says

      That’s freedom. Under a choice model nothing changes for non-government model schools unless they choose to participate in accepting public money. There is certainly no threat to private schools under a choice model yet I’ve always heard that bit thrown out there about how government will then control what private schools teach. That would only happen if those schools chose to take government money and in a system that had strings attached to doing so. But event that is questionable because in other places where forms of school choice have taken place there has not been such interference – that’s all an issue of policy. There have been programs where poor folk in urban areas have been able to use their “voucher” to go to Roman Catholic schools and other church schools.

  2. Hey, Robert. I have always been interested in this subject, but I don’t want to confuse interest and knowledge, so excuse me if my facts are off. I have been told that the schools are funded by two means. One is the tax base of the individual student, and the other is a matching fund from either state or federal government. Can you help clarify this?

    • Pratt on Texas says

      Yes that is true and under school choice models no one is taking any of the local tax base money away from local school districts. They keep that big bankroll even with substantially fewer students, if people indeed left the district, which leaves them with far more money per student!
      The funding model differs in every state. In Texas funds for Maintenance and Operation (M&O) are funded by local property taxes and do not relate directly to the number of students attending. Then, most of the money that comes from state coffers is based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA) which is essentially the money that follows the child to whatever district in which he is enrolled.

  3. Michael J. Murvihill says

    Hi, Larry. The unfortunate truth is that maximizing academic achievement requires placing the resources directly in the hands of parents and teachers. Our current education system is inefficient and resources are distributed based upon political rather than productive considerations. Until we get rid of the interference of school boards, the state legislatures, and the geographical determination of school districts, we cannot maximize academic achievement. I want to give parents the money directly. Until we are willing to do that, our education system will remain the domain of political interests with little interest in learning.

    • Pratt on Texas says

      Very well put.

      • Ron W. Brown says

        Excellent article that puts ‘school choice’ versus ‘teacher’s union choice’ into its proper perspective. Your summation that describes the elitests arrogance is just too spot on.
        This same ARROGANCE is what’s the leading cause of Administrative and Judicial usurpations of Legislative powers followed closely behind by constant over-reach by unelected bureaucratic minions.
        Also just as outrageous is BOTH houses of Congress being derelict in NOT PASSING in a timely manner a true financial budget since 1996…
        Again such arrogance avoiding their Constitutionional duties is ignored by the media and, worse yet, the voting public who blithely ignore our duties to hold our Congressmen and Senators dereliction of duties year in and out and election after election wrongly telling each other that our guys are the good guys, it’s only the elected representatives of other districts and states that are culpable.
        George Bush, Jr and Donald Trump NEITHER cleaned out the Swamp and both allowed continued funding of the US by the dreaded and dreadful OMNIBUS and endless Raising of our national debt ceilings year after year after year!!
        Sincerely, Ron W Brown
        Lubbock, TX

      • Pratt on Texas says

        Arrogance of the new American aristocracy I’m afraid.

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