Winning the Fight for School Choice

Power to the family
Unsplash, CDC

With the recent passing of HB 2853 in Arizona, granting universal school choice in that state, parents will now have the educational freedom to send their kids to the schools they want. Furthermore, HB 2853 will allow funds to be used for other education-related expenses, like technology, books, and materials. Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey (R) has stated that he expects the bill to transform education in his state and serve as a model for the rest of America. And other states like Florida and Texas are taking notice.

This places America on the cusp of something that many would have thought near-impossible until the past few years: mainstream acceptance of school choice. Political opponents often characterize this policy as “taking money away from public schools.” Despite its growing support, the ubiquity of such framing means the policy will likely remain controversial for some time, but the tide is turning on this issue. 

Originally, public schooling was conceived as being a great leveler of society — with the potential to take children from all walks of life and give them a similar chance at success. But, if truth be told, the one-size-fits-all approach to public schooling has always been an awkward fit for a pluralistic society. 

Political factions are separating from each other as time goes, and education has become the battleground upon which much of the culture war has been waged.  The simple fact is that families of different backgrounds have different value systems. The public school model we have right now makes no attempt at being values-neutral and so alienates a significant portion of people from these different backgrounds.

Many on the feel uneasy that if choice becomes widespread, there will be schools which don’t handle the issues of race, evolution, or sexuality in the way they think is best. Similarly, there are many on the right who worry that concepts they find divisive, such as CRT, DEI, or gender ideologies will become ascendant in certain schools. Both sides are almost certainly correct in the substance of what will be in schools, but they are incorrect in the solution to this problem. Choice must move forward despite this tension.

This is precisely what it means to live in a pluralistic society; people disagree with each other, and you have to put up with it. The centralized nature of public education as it stands now is antithetical to the sort of competition which is required for advances to be made. This benefits no one, regardless of which side of the political aisle they fall on.

Let’s make something clear: it is impossible, in a republican society, to rid education of viewpoints and pedagogies one finds undesirable. And unless the United States devolves into a cacophony of competing anarcho-capitalist settlements, the likelihood that the government will ever be completely disentangled from education is infinitesimally small, so this position, while maybe desirable, is a political non-starter. If the government is going to be involved in education, it should be to enhance educational freedom and promote market competition. 

The text of HB 2853 clearly anticipates overreach, prohibiting state control over nonpublic schools. From section 15-2404, point C: “A qualified school shall not be required to alter its creed, practices, admissions policy or curriculum in order to accept students whose parents pay tuition or fees from an empowerment scholarship account pursuant to this chapter in order to participate as a qualified school.” The details here matter; the state is prohibited from imposing ideological values on private and charter schools. 

Choice is a compromise that is easy to make. After all, who are we to tell a parent what their child can or cannot be taught? School choice programs unleash the power of the market to create a variety of providers, services, and curricula that can be used to educate children in a manner that parents are comfortable with. Just because one person, or one group of people, is uncomfortable with the method being selected doesn’t mean that it should be banned for everybody. 

Of course, it is possible — perhaps even likely — that some nefarious actor will try to abuse school choice programs with the goal of making everyone else think like them. While reasonable, this fear warrants is vigilance, not opposition. No matter what the World Bank or the United Nations is doing or intends to do, there are millions of American families that are stuck in educational environments they would rather avoid. Their top priority is ensuring that their kids can read and do math. Choice policies help them fulfill that goal, and steadfast advocates can stop any attempt to alter them unnecessarily before they start.

For those concerned about what children are learning in school, Arizona’s school choice expansion should be something to celebrate, not something to fear. It will enable every family to pursue the type of education they think their child needs in order to succeed, and it will do so right now. Opponents of choice can’t claim to do the same. 

Garion Frankel and James A. Furey
Garion Frankel is a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service with a concentration in education policy and management. He is a Young Voices contributor, and Chalkboard Review’s breaking news reporter. Jason A. Furey is a high-school English teacher from Wisconsin. He is a regular contributor to Chalkboard Review and has been published in City Journal and National Review.