School Choice: That Same Old Song and Dance

What is it about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed school voucher system that has so many American citizens up in a frenzy? After all, school choice and school vouchers are not a new idea, sprung from the mind of one Miss DeVos. There is a multitude of evidence that shows that school vouchers and school choice works for many countries, like Belgium, France, Spain, Chile, Germany, and New Zealand. So one has to ask, is it the idea of using school vouchers to create equality in choice for parents, when it comes to their children’s education, or is it Betsy DeVos’ proposition of the idea that’s upsetting the masses?

milton-school1It’s evident today just as it was 37 years ago when economist Milton Friedman spoke on education and school vouchers in his 1980 Free To Choose Series, that the performance in public schools is declining, test scores are declining and the United States is falling far behind when it comes to education and advancement. It’s one thing to say, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” but the system is broken and it is failing the American people.

Properly implemented, school vouchers would give every student and every parent the freedom to choose where they are getting their education. It creates competition in the market and forces schools to either put up or shut up. Friedman said it best in that, “We are only asking that the public school system should be free to compete, should be open to competition.  If it is really as good as you people make it out to be, it has nothing to worry about.”

There are many studies that show school choice can be an effective solution in elevating the standards of education. In an international analysis, associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Martin West and professor of Economics at the University of Munich, Ludger Woessmann, found that “Competition between the public and private sector positively affects the achievement of students attending public schools. Spending on education is also reduced, suggesting that school systems are more productive if they are more competitive.”

This is a notion that holds true in higher education, as universities and colleges that provide the best education, facilities, staff and faculty have the highest application rates. Students in today’s generation are fully aware of the massive expenses that come along with enrolling in a college or trade school and are feeling the heavy weight of student loans. Parents and students investigate high and low before dolling out their hard-earned dollars on application fees and higher education schools are targeting students through every form of marketing, media and advertising possible to “sell” their school. Getting the best bang for your buck, when preparing to take on the financial burden of student loan debt, would seem like a no brainer. Creating a market in elementary and secondary education would inevitably lead to a push for advancement in not only private schools but in public schools, in order to compete with the needs and wants of parents and students.

Friedman also made a valid point in 1980 that still holds true today, in that it is the low income population that suffers the most when it comes to education. Those parents have the fewest options and choices regarding the quality of education their children will receive. In Friedman’s proposed voucher plan, “You would now have a situation in which the low-income people would have the kind of bargaining power, the kind of possibility of choice, that those of us who are in the upper-income groups have had all along.” By giving funds to the parents instead of the institutions, you open up a realm of possibilities and choices to individuals who have, historically, been the recipients of “the short end of the stick.”

So, we must ask ourselves, if school vouchers are a viable means of improving the education system in our country, why are parents, activists and teachers across the country protesting against Ms. DeVos and her ideas on education reform? Is it the idea itself, a lack of communication or is it the source and if so, the question is then why?