by Edd Doerr
School "choice" has been much in the news of late. Choice is a good word, as when I say that I favor reproductive choice for all women everywhere. But when choice is preceded by the word "school" a whole world of assorted meanings is conjured up. Let's examine some of them:
1. Choice among programs within a single public school school. We have that in nearly all public schools now, especially as the kids advance from grade to grade. Choices can include which foreign language to study, whether to take band or chorus or art, whether to take calculus or advanced chemistry, etc.
2. Choice among public schools within a single district. This is not uncommon. (When I was in high school ages ago a kid could choose among six schools - if he or she was white -- and you were on your own about transportation.) Note, however, that about half of all US kids ride big yellow buses to school. Expanding choice this way begins to cost school districts more money. In these days of shrinking school budgets it is increasingly difficult to pay for more buses AND keep classes reasonably small.
3. Choice among public schools beyond a single school district. This is possible in Minnesota and possibly elsewhere. See No. 2. The farther kids have to go to school the higher the transportation bill.
4. Choice among public and nonpublic (predominantly discriminatory church-related) schools entailing tax support for the nonpublic schools through vouchers or some complicated scheme of tax credits (viz: WI, OH, IN, AZ, etc). Here the costs zoom up out of sight. And not only would taxpayers be supporting public schools but also Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, evangelical fundamentalist and other schools that are pervasively sectarian. We would see our school population fragmented along religious, class, ethnic, ideological, ability level, and other lines, our religiously neutral public schools shrinking, and costs soaring out of sight. That is the vision of Republican governors and legislators and of Catholic bishops and other assorted religious leaders. And of course the citizen's right to support only the religious institutions of his/her free choice would go down the drain.
American voters have faced over two dozen statewide referenda of vouchers and other schemes to divert public funds to nonpublic schools from coast to coast. All schemes to channel public funds to sectarian and other private schools have been defeated by an average margin of two to one. Interestingly, this year's annual Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll found that Americans oppose school voucher plans by 65% to 34%, right at the results of the two dozen referenda. Unless block by the courts, Florida will have a referendum in 2012 on the GOP governor's whacko plan to remove the church-state section from the state constitution. (All of the school aid referendum results may be found on my web site ARLINC.ORG.)