In the wake of Betsy and Randi’s visit together to a public school in Ohio, Russ Walsh reflects on how school choice affects democracy. Every dollar that goes to a charter or voucher is taken away from public schools like those they visited. “Choice” means budget cuts to the public school, and it means that public dollars go to privately controlled schools.
“While the school that DeVos and Weingarten visited is in a heavily Republican district in Ohio, the voters there are no fans of school choice. As one voter put it, vouchers are “like theft.” “It’s saying we passed a levy to go to our school district, and it’s going somewhere else.” Exactly. School choice is theft of our tax dollars and theft of our democracy.
Choice sounds so democratic, so quintessentially American that voucher and charter school champions keep using the term to hoodwink people into thinking that choice in schooling is a good thing. I suggest that those of us who oppose vouchers and charter schools call school choice what it is in the eyes of that Ohio voter, tax theft. The government collects our taxes in order to provide essential services to all of us. There is no choice involved, we all must pay taxes (unless, apparently, we are hugely wealthy). Those essential services include providing for a military, promoting research on health and welfare, providing for police and fire protection, and funding public schools. When money is diverted from the support of the public schools, it amounts to, as the Ohio voter said, theft. Or maybe another way to say it is “taxation without representation”, since voters have no voice and no oversight of how tax money is spent in schools that receive money through vouchers or charters.
It should be readily apparent that corporate education reformers are anti-democracy. In city after city around the country democratically elected school boards have been replaced by boards appointed by the mayor or governor. In Philadelphia, an appointed board has been in place for nearly two decades and the deterioration of the schools has continued unabated. In Detroit, in Betsy DeVos’ home state, the state took over the schools and has systematically led them into chaos. And let us remember that DeVos has spent millions to get legislation passed in Michigan that limits any kind of oversight for voucher and charter schools. So quite literally these schools are stealing public funds with no accountability as to how they spend it…
When parents send their children to charter schools or voucher schools, they are looking for a better opportunity for their children. We can all understand the appeal of that. What parents may not realize is that they have entered into a Faustian bargain. In order to get this shiny new toy of a voucher, they must give up their voice in their child’s education. No elected school board, no independent audit, no budget vote, no say in school policies.
In this drama, Betsy DeVos plays a willing Mephistopheles, offering choice, but getting you to sign away your voice. Without a voice, there is no democracy.
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