School Choice Puts Students First
by Lisa Fritsch (bio)
School choice advocates marched outside the New Jersey State House last spring to demand vouchers. They wanted families to be able to escape failing and unchecked public schools and be able to choose a better education.
Most public school systems — usually, and unfortunately, those in economically challenged areas — are failing our children. They are failing our children socially and academically despite already having been shown the money.
Washington, D.C. is a case in point. Even though per-pupil spending there is around $22,000 annually — enough to send a child to some of America’s best state colleges, or even some private universities — 67 percent of the public schools in our capital city fail to meet accepted standards of learning.
In contrast, there are quality private schools available that can sometimes cost half that amount and yet have a much better success rate. Studies also reveal that many students who receive vouchers to attend their choice of schools perform better than those left with no choice and stuck in assigned government-run schools.
When it’s all boiled down, the only thing separating rich from poor are options. Choice gives people power.
Consider the old saying “beggars can’t be choosers.” In a culture of poverty, choices can be few and far between, making one naturally less powerful and less vested in the consequences and outcome of their life.
What vouches offer — on top of a better education — is a sense of power and responsibility that the current public school regime cannot provide.
Parents and students, for instance, are empowered through their ability to choose. Their choice — their power — motivates everyone involved to work toward success. That’s because vouchers give people the power to go elsewhere at their discretion.
This creates an enthusiasm for education that works in symmetry, investing each party in a successful outcome.
Liberals and teachers’ unions argue that vouchers take money away from schools in the poor communities, thus making those schools poorer. Black community leaders also unreasonably argue that vouchers actually help some kids while allegedly leaving others behind.
But, as bad schools lose children who take their voucher money elsewhere, wouldn’t those children who stay actually be better off? Government money will always be there. With fewer students, wouldn’t they be able to receive more individual attention from less burdened teachers and administrators?
As for “leaving” children behind, would a fire department not go in and save as many people as they could from a burning building just because they couldn’t save each and every person? And, would those left behind be more motivated to succeed knowing things could be different?
If they cared, perhaps the parents of those children supposedly “left behind” would become more active in their school districts to ensure their children can compete equally with children in the better schools. The parents who care the most will fight for those vouchers and a good education so that their children won’t be left behind.
When it comes to making choices that will have the greatest effect on one’s life, education — especially primary education — is the biggest single indicator of lifetime success. It can even be argued that the force of our primary education is so strong that no matter what we do afterward, our success is pre-destined based on the education we have received in grades from kindergarten through high school.
Vouchers today mean independence for the future and for the many generations to come. Of course, we all want that right — that power of choice.
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Lisa Fritsch is a member of the national advisory council for the Project 21 black leadership network and a writer and radio talk show host in Austin, Texas. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints
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