Saturday, December 2, 2017

Parents’ School Choice Rights Shouldn't Depend on Winning Elections

The Newark, New Jersey traditional public schools suck—and parents have been “voting with their feet” in response, moving their children to charter schools whenever possible. But they’ve been politically weak against an establishment backlash against the charters, led by the teachers union.

Now, apparently, the charter parents—faced with the threat of the anti-charter reactionaries, are beginning vote with their ballots, as well. In a NJ Star-Ledger op-ed, In Newark, booming charter schools flex new political muscle, Tom Moran observes:

The politics around charter schools in Newark will never be the same after Tuesday's [school board] election, which saw a new army of charter parents turn out for the first time.

The number of votes cast on Tuesday was roughly double the total only two years ago, an encouraging sign as Newark prepares to resume local control within a few years.

That came after a new political organization in town, the PC2E Action Fund, joined with the schools to register a whopping 3,000 charter parents, enough to swing an election in Newark. The top winner on Tuesday was Kim Gaddy, their candidate.

This is big. Charter schools educate roughly 1 in 3 children in Newark, with many more families banging on the doors to get in. The largest chains - TEAM and North Star -- solidly outperform the traditional schools, giving even the most disadvantaged kids a clear shot at college.

I left these comments:

This is good news because it is another indication of the strength of the parental school choice movement. The market has spoken: Parents want alternatives to the traditional establishment.

But parents’ school choice rights shouldn't have to depend on winning elections. In a completely free market in education, which means no government interference in voluntary parent-educator contract and collaboration aside from child neglect and anti-fraud laws and the like, parents could direct the course they judge most conducive to their own child’s good education by choosing between the multitude of offerings from private education entrepreneurs. There would be no coercive government school monopoly being held together by taxes and compulsory attendance laws.

Short of that, parents can have school choice for their own children through universal school choice policies crafted within the current legal and popular environment, which guarantees every child the means to a K-12 education. One way to achieve this is through universal tax credits that would allow any taxpayer to finance any child’s education up to the limit of the per-pupil public school cost of that child’s home school district—This would mean taxpayers could finance not only their own child but children not their own, such as a grandchild or children from poor households, gifted children, special needs children, etc. Another way would be to simply deposit the per-pupil cost of each child’s public school district into Education Savings Accounts for parents to spend on their own child as they judge best. Financing and administration are separate issues. We can retain the financing guarantee without having education and schools being run by a competition-protected government establishment.

Parents of the worst public school districts need choice the most, so I’m glad to see charter parents “flexing their electoral muscles” in Newark. Ultimately, all parents—not just wealthy parents who can afford both private education and school taxes, and not just parents from failing school districts—should have not just the legal but the practical choice to escape government schools. This is the moral imperative. Education is, after all, fundamentally the moral right and responsibility of parents. Who has any right to override parents? There is no such right, no matter what stupid collectivist slogans the establishment reactionaries trot out.


In a prior article from September 2016, Moran observed:

At last count, 26 percent of Newark students attended charter schools, a number that has spiked in the past five years and is expected to grow to as much as 40 percent.

According to the most respected national study on charter school performance, from Stanford University, Newark's are among the best urban charters in the country. At TEAM Academy's high school, 95 percent of the kids attend college after graduation. TEAM's elementary and high school students beat the state average on reading and math tests.

And TEAM isn't cheating by recruiting the wealthier and whiter kids in Newark: 92 percent of their students are African-American and 88 percent get free or reduced-price lunches.

Newark parents have been on to this for years. More than 10,000 are on waiting lists for charters, equal to nearly a third of those in the traditional system.

That 26% is now almost a third, and growing as demand still far exceeds supply. The lesson here is not that charter schools are the definitive solution to America’s education problems. Charters still need permission from the state to open and continue operating. A fully free education market is the solution. Charters, because they offer more freedom to educators, have proven to be an improvement in terms of education quality, and a step in the right direction in that they give parents a little more freedom and are privately run.

The biggest lesson with charters in Newark and elsewhere is to prove the power of the school choice movement. The appeal of school choice cuts across all income lines. We may not be close to a free market in education when it comes to funding. Most people still support some form of universal tax funding for education. But getting government out of the business of administering the schools is a much more viable political goal. Now more than ever is the time to push for universal school choice through tax credits, as I have proposed in The Objective Standard, or even education savings accounts into which the per-pupil tax cost of each child’s school district is deposited for parents to control. Both would lead to more and more schools being administered by private education entrepreneurs and a very competitive education market open to all parents. Then we could do away with school boards and other forms of central planning—or at least greatly scale back the power of these central planners.

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