One of our nation’s core principles is that every child – no matter where they’re from, what language they speak, how much money their parents make – deserves access to a quality public education.
For generations, we’ve counted on public schools to teach the next generation of Americans. Most of us can remember the amazing impact of a teacher who inspired us to do better, or our child’s teacher who helped him or her read their first chapter book or solve a difficult math problem.
We should never stop fighting to improve our public education system. Our goal should be to live in a country in which every single child has access to an excellent public school, from pre-K to college – and that takes resources. Teachers are not paid enough, and countless students across the country are starting school behind their peer because of the often prohibitive costs of private preschool.
There’s no one magic answer for how to improve schools – but conservatives would lead you to believe that so-called “school choice” can miraculously solve all problems in education. The Koch brothers’ Libre Initiative, the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council, tea party chapters across the country and other far-right organizations are participating this week in National School Choice Week, a deceptive public relations campaign that that serves to spread the message that “school choice” is what school reform should look like.
“School choice” sounds good – and some forms can benefit students and schools – but too often it’s used as code words for a dangerous set of policy initiatives, like taking public school funds and using them at for-profit cyberschools that enrich corporations at the expense of student learning. Or voucher schemes that send money to unaccountable private schools where students often perform significantly worse than their peers in public schools.
And while some charter schools do a good job, others don’t; simply touting charter schools without pushing for real educational reform does a disservice to students.
For example, a study last summer found that Latino students in Texas charter schools “experience the equivalent of 14 and 22 fewer days of learning in reading and math respectively” than Latino students at non-charter public schools.
Republicans choose to ignore facts like these and instead promote “school choice” options that often do little or nothing to help students but do help corporations.
As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "The real safeguard of democracy is education." Public education is a right and we must continue to fight for that. Tax dollars should be going to children's public education not to corporations.
We cannot fall for the right’s deceptive “school choice” campaign. We must oppose their calls to abolish the Department of Education or to cut back on funding for public schools through vouchers and other privatization programs.
Instead, we ought to raise up those voices who are calling for meaningful education reform. All of the Democratic candidates for president – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley – support universal public preschool and more affordable college.
They are all in favor of increased funding for teacher training, and during their campaigns they have all focused on how to better serve low-income students in America. That’s the type of policies we need to hear, not dishonest fluff about “school choice.”
As we hear Republican presidential candidates and their far-right allies pushing often damaging “school choice” programs, let’s hold them accountable and demand to know what they’d really do to improve schools and help students not corporations.
Dolores Huerta is a civil rights leader and a board member of People for the American Way.