Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A fresh look, but not at "school choice"

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:06 AM |  

The headline is somewhat misleading: “A fresh look at school choice.” Today’s lead editorial in the St. Paul Pioneer Press is less about school choice and all about transportation within a “public education” school choice program.

The gist of the issue is that children in the cities 32 elementary magnet schools, for example, receive free bus transportation no matter where they live. A citywide transportation plan would give all schools the same advantage -- that would also increase the transportation budget by as much as $3.5 million each year as reported by the PiPress.

The recommendation is dividing the city into three educational regions and providing free transportation within each region. This plan would save approximately $2.6 million in current transportation costs. The PiPress concludes --
If gasoline were cheap and plentiful, we might see a strong argument for keeping the system the way it is. But given the rising cost of transportation under the current school-choice program, changes are imperative.
Agreed. Changes are imperative, but in typical bureaucratic fashion, the public school system is looking at the problem in silo-like fashion. Transportation costs too high? We obviously have a transportation problem. Ain’t necessarily so.

Earlier in the editorial the writers dismissed the idea that “transportation costs shouldn't drive a family's school choices.” That’s really the crux of the entire issue.

The problem being talked about in the editorial is choice within the government school system, not the misleading “school choice” verbiage of the headline. I’ll bet everyone of the kids abandoning their assigned schools to attend a magnet school or a school in another district walks to the bus stop within a couple of blocks of a private school, probably (gasp) with a religious orientation that might meet their educational needs. Yet these educational resources are not part of the plan.

Perhaps one could explain how kids benefit by getting up a hour or so earlier in the morning to catch a bus to attend a school outside their neighborhood with other children that they see only in school (not in their neighborhood) when they might be attending a private neighborhood school within walking distance of their homes.

If you want to talk school choice, talk meaningful school choice -- school choice that is really “public education” in the sense of in the public interest, not just reducing the costs (a welcome effort to be sure) of public school transportation costs, once again, at the expense of families and children.

Category: Edcuation, School Choice

More: Also of interest on the school choice front is the opinion piece by Linda P. Campbell in today's Pioneer Press. She gets it right and so did the 9th Circuit Court when it dismissed parents claims that sexually-oriented questions on a public school survey violated the constitutional right to privacy and parents right to control when and what their children learn about sex. No such right in the constitution, despite the fact that the ruling goes otherwise than conservatives might like.

The point is, if universal public education meant "vouchers" allowing parents to choose schools, this issue goes away. If parents have the ability to vote with their feet, choose schools that reflect both their educational desires for their children and cultural environment, problems Campbell raises are easily resolved on a school-by-school basis.