Perhaps the greatest opportunity for kids living in low-income neighborhoods in America is to vastly improve the quality of education. This opportunity comes with the Trump administration’s nomination of Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education. DeVos’ plan is to institute the very basic yet profound idea of school choice, also known as school vouchers.
The idea of school choice is simple. If desired, parents would get a voucher from the government for the amount of money that would be spent on their child’s education at their local school. Parents would then be able to spend it at another public, private or charter school.
What could happen
This would eliminate the virtual “monopoly” modern public education has on the education industry, in addition to those who are not privileged enough to pay for school twice: once through taxes and once through private school tuition. As a result of bringing more choice to the education industry, schools would compete for students.
Bad schools would lose students and those students’ educational dollars. To fight this, schools would need to improve, downsize or shut down. Also, better teachers would be able to be rewarded on merit, which has bipartisan support with 63 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of Democrats.
Parents and children would have the power of spending their own voucher that some schools will shift to be more catered to the students’ needs and interests. The diversity of choice would become increasingly prevalent, as with anything in a free market. For example, students may be able to choose between a school that emphasizes more in math and science or a school that emphasizes more in literature and art.
This contrasts the system today, where the curriculum is one size fits all.
Charter schools are what receive the most attention when discussing school choice and Betsy DeVos at the moment. Charter schools are what I’d previously described above. It is a publicly-funded independent school established by teachers, parents or community groups under the terms of a charter with a local or national authority.
They are by nature less federally regulated than current public schools. Charter schools have bipartisan support with a majority of both parties with 58 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans supporting them in 2016.
While students in charter schools outperform their traditional public school counterparts, it is also important to focus on where they are most essential. For example, in 2014, 70,700 students applied to fill 21,000 spots in charter schools in urban cities like New York. The students were chosen by lottery. It is obvious there is a demand in that area.
Charter schools, where tried in the urban cities across the nation, have proven to be a substantial improvement to the education of the students compared to traditional public schools. When comparing students in two different types of schools in the same city, sometimes in the same building, charter schools show great promise.
“Across all urban regions, black students in poverty receive the equivalent of 59 days of additional learning in math and 44 days of additional learning in reading compared to their peers in (traditional public schools),” a Stanford study found. “Hispanic students in poverty experience the equivalent of 48 days of additional learning in math and 25 days of additional learning in reading in charter schools relative to their peers in (traditional public schools).”
Opposition to school choice comes mainly from the teacher’s unions who see it as a blow to their institutions. School choice would inevitably move a large portion of students, and thus money, from traditional public schools to charter and private schools, which are non-unionized. This would diminish their size and influence in Washington, D.C.
Every administration brings with it a new education policy (No Child Left Behind, Common Core, etc.) that inevitably gets thrown out every eight years to make room for a new policy. But I ask you, who is more likely to have a vested interest in a child’s education: their parents or an appointed official in Washington, D.C.?
To quote the Obama Administration Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “It’s obvious the system’s broken. Let’s admit it’s broken, let’s admit it’s dysfunctional, and let’s do something dramatically different, and let’s do it now.”
School choice is dramatically different and would be a tremendous boon to kids currently living in low-income neighborhoods with poor public education.
TK McWhertor is a junior in economics. The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to [email protected]