February 5, 2023

Jeff Bryant: School choice nightmare: Vouchers are endangering the rights of families

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Jeff Bryant, an independent education journalist, writes for Our Schools about a family that found itself in a Maine school choice nightmare. After moving to Maine, the Kempthornes thought they had found a good education choice. They thought, said Nathan Kempthorne, that they would be okay.

But the Kempthornes weren’t okay. Far from it, in 2021, the Kempthornes found themselves in the front seat of their car while they were traveling in another state, using Nathan’s iPhone to call in via Zoom and provide testimony to a Maine legislative committee on why Washington Academy, and other schools like it, pose significant threats to families like theirs and how the state needs to more heavily regulate privately operated schools that get taxpayer funding.

Fighting through tears, they spoke of “racism” and “bullying” at Washington Academy and the school administration’s unwillingness to acknowledge and address the school’s culture.

In his written testimony, Nathan wrote of “a disturbing pattern of systemic racism and institutionalized oppression, harassment, and bullying behavior based on race, ethnicity, country of origin, gender, and sexual orientation that has occurred for years at [Washington Academy].”

Because the racism and sexism they encountered occurred in a private school, there was nothing the Kempthornes could do,

The Kempthornes’ story about the consequences of leaving the public education system for a private school is a cautionary tale about what can happen when a system designed to provide parents with taxpayer-supported private school options fails to consider the potential risks when students and parents transfer to these schools that are less subject to government oversight.

As the Kempthornes came to learn, private education providers that are not governed within the public domain pose legal problems that parents often either don’t know about or don’t understand, and local and state government officials often either have no authority to intercede on parents’ behalf or are reluctant to assert what little authority they do have.

The Kempthorne family’s saga, which is still enduring, is a sharp counterpoint to advocates who promote school choice as a simplistic solution for families without acknowledging that transferring taxpayer-funded education services from the public to the private realm will actually complicate parents’ and students’ lives.

The piece tells us more about the Kempthornes’ story, and what that story tells us about the reality of a school voucher system. Read the complete article here. 

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