School Choice Doesn't Mean School Profit
Last summer, John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, wrote eloquently about a conservative vision of public education, a vision in which parents of all income levels are given more choices about where and how to educate their children.
Those choices, he wrote, should be between competing educational enterprises - government-run schools, independently run charter schools with government oversight, nonprofit private schools and home schools. In each case, some kind of taxpayer support - whether vouchers, tax credits or other assistance - would back those choices.
He compared and contrasted that vision with a completely private or charitable system of public education and the current model where state-run K-12 schools dominate the education landscape.
"Based on experience with choice programs in other states and countries, they would likely confer their greatest benefits on poor, disabled, or gifted students whose special needs are poorly served by district monopolies," Hood wrote.
Hood makes a persuasive case, but it's not a view shared by supporters of the public school model.
Critics of that vision believe too many of poor and even middle-class students would be left behind, educated in substandard, failing schools.
Those conflicting, heartfelt visions of public education hit each other head-on this past year. The new Republican majority in the North Carolina legislature decided to lift a cap on charter schools and allow the parents of disabled children to receive tax credits when sending their children to private schools.
The debate likely will continue as Republicans push for more parental choices in public education.
But nothing in that conservative vision of public education must or should involve mixing profit motives with schooling.
Yet that seems to be exactly the focus of a national policy group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, influential with conservative state lawmakers. It has been encouraging state legislatures to adopt laws allowing school districts to partner with for-profit on-line schools.
Just recently, Cabarrus County schools agreed to partner with one of these companies, K12 Inc., to operate a virtual charter school.
The school board agreed to the partnership despite critical publicity showing that some virtual schools run by the company in other states produced poor academic results. A New York Times investigation found individual teachers overseeing as many as 250 students.
The company also was recently hit with a class-action lawsuit filed by an investor claiming that executives made false claims about student performance.
For the agreement with Cabarrus County schools to take effect, the state Board of Education would have to approve the school.
It's too bad that the matter has gotten even this far.
Embracing a for-profit model of public education - in which tax dollars are siphoned off to Wall Street investors, and higher student-teacher ratios mean more profit for those investors - is recipe for educational disaster.
School choice is a legitimate topic for policy debate. Using that debate to funnel tax dollars to millionaires isn't.
It's also neither conservative nor liberal.
It's greedy and despicable.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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