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The Fight Against School Choice
E. Ablorh-Odjidja
February 03, 2017

The intent to scuttle the nomination of Betsy Devos, a strong advocate of School Choice, recalls distressing conditions in the Public School system before Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954.

With that decision, it was thought that equal access to good schools (and closing the gap in educational outcomes within the Jim Crow Public School system) was understood and would be achieved.

Chief Justice Earl Warren, in the opinion of the Supreme Court, wrote this decision:

“Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. ….. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. .......”

It seems rather odd that conditions at inner city Public Schools in the present deny most of the same qualities sort in the historic decision of 1954.

There are now two public school systems in America (though described as one). The good ones are in rich neighborhood and the bad ones in poor areas.

Whether the above situation is accidental or planned should not be the issue. Rather, it should be observed that a poor kid in this "two-stream" system today gets the short shrift in educational outcomes, as if he or she were back in the Jim Crow system prior to 1954.

A report issued by the US Department of Education titled, "Expansive Survey of America's Public Schools Reveals Troubling Racial Disparities," admits the fault line.

“In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.

At the bottom of the divide are the failing and underperforming inner city public schools, where most Blacks and the underprivileged live.

These inner city schools have become agents of unemployment, creators of unsafe neighborhoods and assurers of prison incarcerations for the youth - all outcomes that would suit the tendencies of a Jim Crow's heart.

Education outcomes, as already understood in 1954, are issues that underpin all aspects of Black life. Good outcomes assure good life. For years black youths have been devastated by poor outcomes at inner city public schools.

Ironically, considerations about these poor educational outcomes have so far not separated Blacks from Democrat policies, to question the risks that support for the current Public School concept pose to core Black interest in education.

This Public School concept, School Choice advocates claim, is outdated. And they see in their new approach a rather novel effort to fulfill the Brown vs. Board Education mandate.

Unfortunately, their proposal has not much support among Democrats and now two Republican senators..

Together with the Teachers Unions, Democrats resist vehemently the idea of School Choice. They condemn it as a ploy to move resources from the Public Schools to private ones in the form of vouchers.

“Vouchers pull resources from schools that need every dollar they can get,” they say.

For these advocates and protectors of the current public school concept, the problem is with the education budget itself; the need is for more money to bail the failing schools.

They argue that:

"Failing" is a relative term, of course. But there's no question that public schools — like all components of government — are struggling with reduced budgets. According to a Census Bureau report that came out last year, 2011 marked the first year in four decades that per-student spending in public schools declined....”

Indeed, failing is a relative term. But the fallacy in the above argument is that the school in the poor areas were failing long before 2011 and are continuing to fail even after 2016. So what to do?

Besides, this understanding of School Choice as a drain is amazingly dishonest.

Comparatively, Democrats don't mind giving out food stamps (SNAP) that pull resources to rich merchants in the same neighborhoods that the poor schools are located.

In truth, they are against the removal of the protective barriers that surround the zip code public school system and afraid that the elimination could move poor students to their rich neighborhood schools.

But, why must a choice to move a kid from a non-performing Public School A in a ghetto to a performing Public School B in a different neighborhood be a drain on the same Public School system in the first place?

And, what is wrong with adding private schools as options to the Public School system when needed?

At least, the mere existence of another option, which is what School Choice is, could induce more competition and parents get to decide where their wards' vouchers go.

Preceding administrations have not done much to embrace School Choice for one utmost reason: The fear of the Teacher Union funds that generously support mostly the Democrat party.

Luckily for advocates of School Choice, there is a new administration that believes in educational innovation and is prepared to act.

The nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, is an ardent supporter of School Choice for over 30 years, and predictably, her nomination is being bitterly opposed by the Democrat party and the Teacher Unions

Also, predictably, Devos has been described by the opposition as being unqualified for the job.

Listening to the questions opponents at Senate hearings have for Devos, you could detect the bias against School Choice. At the same time you would be struck aghast by the underlining insensitivity on display for the plight of victims in poor school districts.

The questions, apparently, are not meant to elicit how School Choice can help, but to block the idea entirely., A question by Senator Bernie Sanders to Betsy Devos, for example:

“Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?”

Devos answer, “I do think that there would be that possibility….”

And Bernie Sanders, the socialist, scoffed at the answer.

Forget the fact that School Choice has been Devos' passion and specialty for over 30 years. And this is the expertise that bought her the nomination and the wish to bring same skill set into an accepted educational system, but not necessarily to abolish the existing public schools!

But her detractors want no part of this argument and would take none into consideration.

Devos is facing an uphill fight. It has just been learned that two Republican senators, both white women, from constituencies far from the effects of the desperate Public School system in poor areas but afraid of the wash that the voucher for School Choice may bring to their neighborhoods, have planed to go against her in the final floor vote.

Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, Republicans from Alaska and Maine respectively, accused Devos of failing to understand "what public schools needed to succeed."

A dose of School Choice vouchers, maybe?

Well, only the Teacher Unions could understand "what the public schools needed to succeed"!

As heavy recipients of generous Teacher Union donations, Murkowski and Collins potential two votes against Devos can be classified as fear and “donor service” induced, not likely driven by any principle of the Republican party they represent.

But never mind. Once the intent of the two Republicans was announced it was accepted with glee by the Democrat caucus and the Teacher Unions, thereby cementing the special interest link between them because the chances of Devos attaining the simple majority plus one vote have been reduced in the close votes expected.

What remains to be seen is whether the disapproval is an effort against only Betsy Devos the billionaire or a quest to kill the idea of School Choice itself, thereby locking down the poor and Black kids in rotten schools.

Devos, as a person, can be forced out of the nomination. But can the idea behind School Choice die with her ouster?

I know of no credible plan that has a promise to erase the gap in outcomes like that proposed by School Choice. The idea of pouring more money into the coffers of a failing school system though very lame, sounds also like shouts from a con man who has no innovation to sell.

More money for public schools has been the easy sell for the Teacher Unions for generations.

It must be remembered that there is an educational crisis in America today. It keeps Blacks and the poor in rotten schools; this in a society that has been struggling to free itself of the same depraved conditions since Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954.

For this writer, if you are black, love your kids and will like to give them a shot at a better future, you will go for School Choice.

E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Publisher, Washington, DC, February 03, 2017.
Permission to publish: Please feel free to publish or reproduce, with credits, unedited. If posted at a website, email a copy of the web page to . Or don't publish at all


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