Christopher Lubienski: The school choice movement has a voter problem
Writing in The Tennessean, Christopher Lubienski points out that the school choice movement has never really won over voters in this country, and so is in the habit of trying to avoid democratic processes.
This voter-avoidance strategy is clear with school choice programs across the U.S. According to the pro-voucher organization EdChoice.org, the U.S. has over 75 publicly funded private school choice programs, including vouchers and education savings accounts, as well as another 45 charter school programs. But all of these programs have been implemented by legislators, not the electorate. Following these legislative actions, judges, not voters, can get their say.
This reflects an interesting conflict. Parents seem to like choice programs. Perhaps that’s not surprising, since people are often happy to receive public subsidies. But when asked, voters consistently and overwhelmingly reject these programs.
Policymakers and choice advocates have largely come down on the side of parent rights in endorsing school choice. Since this puts them in opposition to voters, they largely avoid the electorate on the issue.
But policymakers would do well to remember that this is not just a question of who controls education decision-making. After all, they are entrusted with the wise use of taxpayers’ dollars. And recent research is repeatedly showing that the voters may be on to something: that vouchers are not a good investment. Although publicly funded vouchers may be propping up some private schools that might otherwise go out of business, they are not really helping the people they purport to help. In fact, despite parent satisfaction, study after study shows that students using vouchers are falling behind where they would have been if they had remained in public schools. Thus, policymakers might think twice about defying voters on initiatives that actually cause harm to children.
It’s a curious approach for a movement that claims to be working for the grass roots.
Read the full op-ed here.