Friday, January 6, 2017

Aim Of School Choice Is To Limit Choice - Norm in The WAVE

Published Jan. 6, 2017

Aim Of School Choice Is To Limit Choice

School Scope
By Norm Scott
I’m continuing my series of columns on the voucher/school choice issue which will come to the fore under the Trump administration especially with his educational secretary nominee, Betsy DeVos, a fierce opponent of public schools. The very concept of a public school system is under attack which connects to the general anti-government movement. Over this series I am attempting to point out the fallacies.

One of the major talking points we hear from “choicers” is that the public schools are a government monopoly. David S. D'amato, policy advisor at the libertarian Heartland Institute, wrote Americans have forgotten the destructive philosophy upon which the government education apparatus was built. The centerpiece of that philosophy is the fallacy that centralization and monopolization equate to quality and results.

Centralized? We have one of the most decentralized school systems in the world with each city, town or county in theoretical control of their own schools and budgets – not always a good thing in some places – but stay with me. Here in NYC the system is so big it could use some decentralization down to neighborhoods, but not the total balkanization where each school is an island and competes with the other nearby schools for the best performing students and the same funding. Ironically, it has been state and federal governments that have tried to use the choice movement to override local controls by force feeding charter schools and common core into communities. Thus we saw as a counter reaction, the growth of the optout movement that led to 20 percent - 225,000 students – whose parents refused to let their kids take the state tests last year.

Let’s talk about the “monopoly” charge that we often heard from the very people who ran the NYC schools for 12 years under Bloomberg – Joel Klein and Dennis Walcott, both of whom lined up a 100 percent with the choicers. There is much irony in Walcott’s appointment as chief of the Queens libraries, also a government monopoly, in essence, unless we want to count those little library boxes some people in the community have installed in front of their houses. I wonder how Walcott would react if we called for more choice in libraries – maybe give away some of his funding to any charter library operator who would get funding based on how many people came in to take out books. There just wouldn’t be enough money to be made so backers of the choice movement are not interested.

How about the government transit monopoly. Should we offer charter subway operators as an alternative? Take away some of the MTA budget to allow some competitor to build their own tracks? Maybe someone can get that right of way that so many people are enamored with to compete with the A train. Now we do have some private options but they cost more, unless subsidized by the hated government. What next? Will Uber ask for tax money because they offer people a choice?

Libraries, transit, police, fire, sanitation, schools are public services that are to be protected, not attacked and demolished. Sure, government has its problems and inefficiencies but it is subject to some degree of public accountability, though not nearly enough as there are too many slimy politicians who try to take advantage of their positions. Once we turn things over to private hands with a profit making motive, things tend to deteriorate over time. In fact, in the earliest days, the subways were built by private entities and they couldn’t maintain the system.

Rather than taking President Reagan’s dictum that government is the problem not the solution, we need to think about how to monitor and improve the concepts of democratically elected and managed government, which in the age of Trump won’t be all that easy.

Norm blogs at where you have a choice to read it or not.


  1. Brilliant summary of the lunacy and hypocrisy that animates the school "choice" movement.

  2. Privateers want the steady stream of school tax money.
    Privateers have already gone after the Post Office- but the Postal Union spread the word, fought back, and won.
    Remember when G. W. Bush wanted to privatize Social Security? We fought back and won.
    That bad idea is back again-and they want to privatize Medicare- but we will win again.
    Look at Opt Out -we are on the winning side.


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