Search results for: "choice"

The Georgia branch of Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children made a mass mailing to voters in Republican districts urging them to fight against the “radical left” agenda of President Biden, Kamala Harris, and Stacey Abrams, which denies school choice.

It backfired.

A national advocacy group promoting school vouchers bombarded conservative Georgia voters with glossy mailers tying Republican state legislators from their districts to Stacey Abrams and other “radical left” figures. It backfired in spectacular fashion.

Just days after the American Federation for Children financed the mailers in at least 16 Republican-controlled legislative districts, House Speaker David Ralston told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the voucher proposal the group sought to pass is dead for the year.

“I am livid. I’ve been around politics for a long time, but this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in my career, and one of the most deceitful,” Ralston said. “These are people we have tried to help over the years, and they turned to attack us very viciously.”

Ralston added: “That voucher legislation will not move at all in the Georgia House of Representatives this year, period.”

The mailers were sent by the Washington-based group to back proposals that would give public school students what it calls “Promise Scholarships,” a state subsidy of about $6,000 a year to help cover private school tuition.

The measures had gained early traction in House committees…

The aggressive strategy was meant to pressure legislators to end a yearslong feud over public funding of private education in Georgia. Instead, the Capitol’s halls buzzed Tuesday with incredulous GOP lawmakers infuriated by the group’s approach.

“It’s very disappointing that this group is targeting lawmakers in the middle of the deliberative process,” said state Rep.

John Oliver explained the Republican hysteria over “critical race theory.” At bottom, as he shows, the GOP goal is to persuade parents to escape “CRT” by abandoning their local public schools and enrolling in charter schools or seeking vouchers. The leading anti-CRT crusader, Chris Rufo, made this linkage explicit, as Oliver demonstrates, as did Betsy DeVos. The big money supporting the anti-CRT campaign is coming from the same people funding school choice. And, as Oliver explains, “school choice” has its roots in the fight to block school desegregation in the 1950s.

The fight against CRT is being used to silence any teaching about racism today. Teachers are supposed to teach slavery and racism as a strange aberration from our founding principles and to pretend that it no longer exists.

But if it really were the terrifying problem that people like Rufo describe, why was there no uprising against it in the past 40 years? Why didn’t George W. Bush speak up about CRT? WhY was Trump silent about it until 2020? Why now? Is it mere coincidence that the anti-CRT madness took off after the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide protests against racism?

Nancy MacLean is an esteemed historian at Duke University, where she is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy. She specializes in the study of race, gender, labor history and social movements in the United States. Her book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History ofthe Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America is must reading.
In this important paper, she examines the role of economist Milton Friedman in promoting school choice, segregation, and privatization.
The abstract:

This paper traces the origins of today’s campaigns for school vouchers and other modes of public funding for private education to efforts by Milton Friedman beginning in 1955. It reveals that the endgame of the “school choice” enterprise for libertarians was not then— and is not now–to enhance education for all children; it was a strategy, ultimately, to offload the full cost of schooling onto parents as part of a larger quest to privatize public services and resources. Based on extensive original archival research, this paper shows how Friedman’s case for vouchers to promote “educational freedom” buttressed the case of Southern advocates of the policy of massive resistance to Brown v. Board of Education. His approach—supported by many other Mont Pelerin Society members and leading libertarians of the day –taught white supremacists a more sophisticated, and for more than a decade, court-proof way to preserve Jim Crow. All they had to do was cease overt focus on race and instead deploy a neoliberal language of personal liberty, government failure and the need for market competition in the provision of public education.

She describes the spread of ”school choice” legislation and writes:

A well-funded, laser-focused and integrated long game helped achieve these legislative triumphs. Indeed, it is difficult to find an institution on the American right that has not advocated “school choice.” Think tanks such as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, along with affiliates of the State Policy Network, make the case for it. Engines of legal and judicial change such as the Federalist Society and the Institute for Justice workshop the constitutional issues and litigate for it. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) produces templates of “model laws” for its overwhelmingly Republican members to introduce it in state legislatures. Fox News broadcasts the talking points. Organizing efforts including Americans for Prosperity drive calls and letters to elected officials. Deep-pocketed donors underwrite the work. The campaigners employ a common language of personal liberty and anti-government, pro-market catch phrases. They tout the benefits of parents gaining the “freedom to choose” to send their children to private schools. And they claim that breaking up the “government monopoly” will promote “competition” that will improve the overall quality of education.2

“School choice” sounds like it offers options. But as I will show, the whole concept, as first implemented in the U.S. South in the mid-1950s, aimed to deny the choice of equal, integrated education to Black families. Further, Milton Friedman, soon to become the best-known neoliberal economist in the world, abetted the push for private schooling that southern states used to evade the reach of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1954 ruling that the segregation of public education violated the constitutional right of Black children to equal protection of the laws. So, too, did other libertarians of the day, among them leading pioneers of the cause that today avidly pushes private schooling.3
Perhaps most tellingly, though, the ultimate purpose was not really to benefit parents and children, even the white ones who patronized the new segregation academies. For Friedman and the libertarians, school choice was and is a strategy to ultimately offload the burden of paying for education onto parents, thus harming the educational prospects of most youth. As we will see, Friedman himself hoped it would discourage low-income parents from having children in a form of economic social engineering reminiscent of eugenics. He predicted that once they had to pay the entire cost of schooling from their own earnings, they would make different reproductive decisions.4

Please read this thoughtful, well-researched and alarming study to understand the dark history of “school choice.” This is a case where history illuminates the future.

Jennifer Hawes Berry of the Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, wrote this account of a Charleston high school struggling to improve and raise its graduation rate, even as its enrollment dwindles in the era of school choice. The main effect of school choice seems to be the damage inflicted on the local public high school. The original story was published in 2015 and updated in 2020.

She writes:

Once a powerhouse Class AAAA school, North Charleston High can barely field sports teams anymore. Half of its classrooms sit empty. Saddled with a reputation for fights, drugs, gangs and students who can’t learn, middle-class families no longer give it a chance.

This is the unintended consequence of school choice.

Two-thirds of students in its attendance zone now flee to myriad magnets, charters and other school choices that beckon the brightest and most motivated from schools like this one.

But not all can leave, not those without cars or parents able to navigate their complex options. Concentrated poverty is left behind. So is a persistent “At Risk” rating from the state

Berry writes about the senior prom. Before “choice” drained the school of students, the prom drew 250 graduates. Now only about 60 attend.

She writes:

Fresh from jail, the 17-year-old has been at North Charleston High for six days. Principal Robert Grimm fought enrolling the teen given he came with an armed robbery conviction.

A district official said: You have to.

So, the new kid walked into the glass front doors and down the cinder block hallways, bringing with him only a handful of credits and a rap sheet.

Six days later, as students surge into the hallways during a morning class change, he starts shouting and bumping into another boy on the third floor.

Assistant Principal Vanessa Denney responds to the call for help. An ebony-haired Jersey girl, this is her first year at the school. She rushes toward the teens, fueled by an instinct to protect.

But the new kid crosses an invisible and clearly understood line.

With both hands, he shoves her down onto the floor hard enough to leave bruises. Denney doesn’t top 5 feet in stilettos. He outweighs her by 50 pounds.

Other students hurry over to help. Rodrik Rodriguez, the school’s burly North Charleston police officer, barrels in. He orders the student to calm down.

The 17-year-old doesn’t calm down. Rodriguez arrests him.

Then the teen crosses another clear line: He threatens to come back and shoot the officer, Rodriguez writes in a police report. “Watch what happens when I get back. I’m going to straight drop you, brah.”

New charges accompany the teen’s return to jail: threatening the life of a public official and second-degree assault and battery. He faces prison time, if convicted, and expulsion.

So the 17-year-old who Grimm didn’t want to enroll, who arrived with few credits and stayed six days, may wind up counting as a non-graduate on North Charleston High’s critical graduation rate.

The numbers game

It’s Wednesday morning, when several North Charleston High staffers will gather around an oval conference table next to Grimm’s office to tackle an onerous task: scouring the list of students who will count as dropouts because they have vanished from these hallways.

Every name is critical.

When a graduating class has fewer than 100 students, each one is crucial to that all-important number on the state report card: THE GRADUATION RATE.

With the seniors set to cross the stage in a month, time is running out to find students who last enrolled here but might be going to school elsewhere — or who could be persuaded to come back and finish high school.

Denney sits in her office poring over a roster of students counted as enrolled at the school. An educator turned detective, she must track down those whose names show up on the list but whose bodies aren’t warming a classroom seat.

If she can prove the teens are enrolled somewhere else, North Charleston High can scratch them from its rolls — and boost its graduation rate. If not, they count.

Report in hand, Denney heads downstairs to a conference room beside Grimm’s office, joining Data Clerk Kathleen Luciano.

Grimm huffs in, radiating ire.

A parent scheduled to meet with him didn’t show up. For the seventh time. And he’s just learned that two new students have appeared on the school’s non-graduate list. Both enrolled here as freshmen, then never stepped foot on campus.

Because North Charleston High has become so small — school choice drained 700 students from its halls this year alone — every student who shows up on that roster but doesn’t graduate in four years drags the school’s graduation rate down more than 1 percent.

Now he fears they’ll look like two more dropouts on the school’s graduation rate this year.

Grimm grabs his cell phone, dials the school district offices and makes his case.

“But she never stepped foot on this campus!” he insists.

As of today, the school has 84 students who should be seniors and graduate this year.

Of those, 58 likely will cross the stage in a month. Another 12 are self-contained special education students who are unable to pursue traditional diplomas. Yet they will count as non-graduates on North Charleston High’s state report card because rules about treatment of children with disabilities require all students be calculated alike.

But it means that this school, which has the highest percentage of special education students of all high schools in Charleston County, can achieve at most a 77 percent graduation rate, still below the district’s goal, even if every other student here graduates in four years.

The state likely will give it closer to 66 percent.

That’s because, as of this meeting, 14 students who should be crossing the stage are God knows where instead.

Denney recently found one should-be senior on Facebook posting photos of herself partying at clubs, new baby at home. Another earned a GED — but will count as a non-graduate per state reporting rules. One is in a psychiatric hospital refusing to do school work.

Then there is the 17-year-old charged with assaulting Denney. Another new student just was arrested for two gun violations in his neighborhood. Both likely will be expelled. Both could spend time in prison.

A student peeks into the conference room door. He just arrived at school, an hour late because he relies on a CARTA bus. He just moved — again — this time to live with an older sister.

But at least he is here, heading to a classroom.

School choice is rooted in a history of segregation and racism. Katherine Stewart wrote about this sordid history in her book The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. I wrote about that history in The New York Review of Books in an essay called “The Dark History of School Choice,” where I reviewed Stewart’s book, Derek Black’s Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, and Steve Suitts’ Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement.

Nancy MacLean, the William Chafe Professor of History at Duke University, is the author of the brilliant book Democracy in Chains, which dug deep into the roots of libertarianism, the role of the Koch brothers in funding it, and the danger to democracy of unfettered libertarianism. She and I will join in a webinar to discuss the coordinated attack on public schools on February 3; you are invited to join us.

MacLean wrote in The Washington Post about the perverse way that the school choice movement distorts the meaning of “freedom” and “choice” to hide their true goal, which is to protect racial segregation and privatize public education.

She wrote:

The year 2021 has proved a landmark for the “school choice” cause — a movement committed to the idea of providing public money for parents to use to pay for private schooling.

Republican control of a majority of state legislatures, combined with pandemic learning disruptions, set the stage for multiple victories. Seven states have created new school choice programs, and 11 others have expanded current programs through laws that offer taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schooling and authorize tax credits and educational savings accounts that incentivize parents moving their children out of public schools.

On its face, this new legislation may sound like a win for families seeking more school options. But the roots of the school choice movement are more sinister.

White Southerners first fought for “freedom of choice” in the mid-1950s as a means of defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which mandated the desegregation of public schools. Their goal was to create pathways for White families to remove their children from classrooms facing integration.

Prominent libertarians then took advantage of this idea, seeing it not only as a means of providing private options, but also as a tool in their crusade to dismantle public schools altogether. This history reveals that rather than giving families more school options, school choice became a tool intended to give most families far fewer in the end.

School choice had its roots in a crucial detail of the Brown decision: The ruling only applied to public schools. White Southerners viewed this as a loophole for evading desegregated schools.

In 1955 and 1956, conservative White leaders in Virginia devised a regionwide strategy of “massive resistance” to the high court’s desegregation mandate that hinged on state-funded school vouchers. The State Board of Education provided vouchers, then called tuition grants, of $250 ($2,514 in 2021 dollars) to parents who wanted to keep their children from attending integrated schools. The resistance leaders understood that most Southern White families could not afford private school tuition — and many who could afford it lacked the ideological commitment to segregation to justify the cost. The vouchers, combined with private donations to the new schools in counties facing desegregation mandates, would enable all but a handful of the poorest Whites to evade compliance.

Other Southern states soon adopted voucher programs like the one in Virginia to facilitate the creation of private schools called “segregation academies,” despite opposition from Black families and civil rights leaders. Oliver Hill, an NAACP attorney key to the Virginia case against “separate but equal” education that was folded into Brown, explained their position this way: “No one in a democratic society has a right to have his private prejudices financed at public expense.”

Despite such objections, key conservative and libertarian thinkers and foundations, including economists Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, Human Events editor Felix Morley and publisher Henry Regnery, backed the White Southern cause. They recognized that White Southerners’ push for “freedom of choice” presented an opportunity to advance their goal of privatizing government services and resources, starting with primary and secondary education. They barely, if ever, addressed racism and segregation; instead, they spoke of freedom (implicitly, White freedom).

Friedman began promoting “educational freedom” in 1955, just as Southern states prepared to resist Brown. And he praised the Virginia voucher plan in his 1962 book, “Capitalism and Freedom,” holding it up as a model for school choice everywhere. “Whether the school is integrated or not,” he wrote, should have no bearing on eligibility for the vouchers. In other words, he knew the program was designed to fund segregation academies and saw it as no barrier to receiving state financing.

Friedman was far from alone. His fellow libertarians, including those on the staff of the William Volker Fund, a leading funder on the right, saw no problem with state governments providing tax subsidies to White families who chose segregation academies, even as these states disenfranchised Black voters, blocking them from having a say in these policies.

Libertarians understood that while abolishing the social safety net and other policies constructed during the Progressive era and the New Deal was wildly unpopular, even among White Southerners, school choice could win converts.

These conservative and libertarian thinkers offered up ostensibly race-neutral arguments in favor of the tax subsidies for private schooling sought by white supremacists. In doing so, they taught defenders of segregation a crucial new tactic — abandon overtly racist rationales and instead tout liberty, competition and market choice while embracing an anti-government stance. These race-neutral rationales for private school subsidies gave segregationists a justification that could survive court review — and did, for more than a decade before the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional.

When challenged, Friedman and his allies denied that they were motivated by racial bigotry. Yet, they had enough in common ideologically with the segregationists for the partnership to work. Both groups placed a premium on the liberty of those who had long profited from white-supremacist policies and sought to shield their freedom of action from the courts, liberal government policies and civil rights activists.

Crucially, freedom wasn’t the ultimate goal for either group of voucher supporters. White Southerners wielded colorblind language about freedom of choice to help preserve racial segregation and to keep Black children from schools with more resources.

Friedman, too, was interested in far more than school choice. He and his libertarian allies saw vouchers as a temporary first step on the path to school privatization. He didn’t intend for governments to subsidize private education forever. Rather, once the public schools were gone, Friedman envisioned parents eventually shouldering the full cost of private schooling without support from taxpayers. Only in some “charity” cases might governments still provide funding for tuition.

Friedman first articulated this outlook in his 1955 manifesto, but he clung to it for half a century, explaining in 2004, “In my ideal world, government would not be responsible for providing education any more than it is for providing food and clothing.” Four months before his death in 2006, when he spoke to a meeting of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), he was especially frank. Addressing how to give parents control of their children’s education, Friedman said, “The ideal way would be to abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it.”

Today, the ultrawealthy backers of school choice are cagey about this long-term goal, knowing that care is required to win the support of parents who want the best for their children. Indeed, in a sad irony, decades after helping to impede Brown’s implementation, school choice advocates on the right targeted families of color for what one libertarian legal strategist called “forging nontraditional alliances.” They won over some parents of color, who came to see vouchers and charter schools as a way to escape the racial and class inequalities that stemmed from White flight out of urban centers and the Supreme Court’s willingness to allow White Americans to avoid integrating schools.

But the history behind vouchers reveals that the rhetoric of “choice” and “freedom” stands in stark contrast to the real goals sought by conservative and libertarian advocates. The system they dream of would produce staggering inequalities, far more severe than the disparities that already exist today. Wealthy and upper-middle-class families would have their pick of schools, while those with far fewer resources — disproportionately families of color — might struggle to pay to educate their children, leaving them with far fewer options or dependent on private charity. Instead of offering an improvement over underfunded schools, school choice might lead to something far worse.

As Maya Angelou wisely counseled in another context, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” If we fail to recognize the right’s true end game for public education, it could soon be too late to reverse course.

The Guardian in the U.K. reports on a study finding that parents in England are unhappy with the past three decades of “school choice.” By contrast, parents in Scotland are satisfied with their local public schools.

Three decades of school choice in England has left parents feeling more “cynical, fatalistic and disempowered” than their peers in other parts of the UK, according to new research.

A study comparing parents in England, where families can name up to six state schools for their children to attend, with those in Scotland, where children are generally assigned to local state schools, found Scottish families were still more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.

While 75% of parents in England said they had enough choice of schools, 76% of those in Scotland said the same, despite their lack of explicit choices within the admissions process.

Parents in England were more likely to express frustration and disempowerment, with several calling the current school choice policies an “illusion”, in surveys and interviews conducted for the research published in the Journal of Social Policy.

Aveek Bhattacharya, the chief economist at the Social Market Foundation and the author of the paper, said: “This research adds to the growing evidence that school choice policies have failed to bring the benefits they were supposed to.

“For all the emphasis that policymakers in England have put on increasing choice, parents south of the border are no happier with their lot than their Scottish counterparts. Indeed, many are disenchanted and dismayed.

“These findings show that parents offered a range of options for their children’s school are no happier than parents who have less choice about education.”

Politico reports that Republicans view the pandemic and school closures as an opportunity to promote school closures. This should appeal to the 30% of the population who are unvaccinated and oppose mask mandates and other public health measures. These are probably the same parents who want to block teaching about racism and want parents to decide what their children should be taught (think creationism).

‘A WINNING POLITICAL ISSUE’ — The nation watched as Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race last November by tapping into parental outrage over school closures and using the rallying cry “Parents Matter.”

— Now, as the highly contagious Omicron variant complicates the spring school semester and the 2022 midterms ramp up, GOP strategists say it is an opportune time to also propel one of their education priorities: school choice.

— “Parents being able to have a greater role in where and how their children are educated is a winning political issue, and we intend to promote it as much as possible in the coming year,” said South Carolina GOP Chair Drew McKissick, adding that bills to advance school choice initiatives, like education savings accounts, are ready to go this legislative session.

— “We look at education as being the civil rights issue of our time,” he said. McKissick also pointed out that school choice will be a key issue for Sen. Tim Scott, who’s in the middle of a re-election campaign. Scott, in an address to rebut Biden’s first address to Congress, said the pandemic-spurred public school closures created the “clearest case I’ve seen for school choice in our lifetime.”

If education “is the civil rights issue of our time” in South Carolina, why does the state refuse to fund its public schools adequately and equitably?

Minneapolis-based journalist Sarah Lahm writes about Minnesota as a pioneer in the school choice movement, but the state is now awash in choice and disruption. She sees hope in the growing community school movement, which fosters bonds between schools and families instead of competition among schools for scarce resources.

She writes:

In Minnesota, the Saint Paul Public Schools district has been left gasping for air as school choice schemes continue to wreak havoc on the district’s enrollment numbers and, subsequently, its finances.

This district is one of the largest and most diverse in the state, if not the nation, with approximately 35,000 students representing a wide array of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Two-thirds of the district’s students live in poverty, according to federal income guidelines, and almost 300 students in the district are listed as being homeless.

As a result of more school choice, in 2017, 14,000 school-age children living in the city were not enrolled in the Saint Paul Public Schools district. Instead, they either attended a charter school in or near the city or chose to open-enroll into a neighboring school district.

Just two years later, in 2019, the exodus of families had risen to more than 16,000. Today, more than one-third of all students living in Saint Paul do not attend Saint Paul Public Schools, leaving the district in a constant state of contraction.

The district’s lagging enrollment numbers can be attributed to shrinking birthrates and “a rise in school choice options,” according to a recent article by Star Tribune reporter Anthony Lonetree.

As a consequence of shrinking enrollments, district officials recently outlined a reorganization proposal that calls for the closure of eight schools by the fall of 2022 “under a consolidation plan,” in an attempt to offload expensive infrastructure costs and improve academic options for students.

Charter school options abound in and around Saint Paul, and many represent the worst effects that come with applying unregulated, market-based reforms to public education.

There’s the handful of white flight charter schools within the city limits, for example, that have long waiting lists and offer exclusive programming options, such as Great River School (a Montessori school), Nova Classical Academy, and the Twin Cities German Immersion School. On the flip side of this are racially and economically isolated Saint Paul charter schools such as Hmong College Prep Academy, where according to state data 98 percent of the students enrolled are Asian and nearly 80 percent live in poverty, according to federal income guidelines.

Hmong College Prep Academy has been in the news recently, thanks to a scandal that was dubbed a “hedge fund fiasco” by the Pioneer Press. The school is run by a husband-and-wife administrative team who invested $5 million of taxpayer money in a hedge fund, hoping it would provide a return that would help pay for the school’s expansion plans. Instead, the hedge fund investment apparently lost $4.3 million, leading to calls for the school’s superintendent, Christianna Hang, to be fired—something school officials refused to do. Hang finally submitted her resignation in late October.

In short, the market-based approach to education reform that Minnesota helped pioneer has caused a great deal of disruption, segregation and chaos. In a Hunger Games-type setting, districts and charter schools have been forced to compete for students with white, middle and upper class students and families largely coming out on top.

The end result, critics allege, is an increasingly segregated public education landscape across the state, with no widespread boost in student outcomes to show for it.

Thirty years after Minnesota’s charter school and open enrollment laws ushered in a mostly unregulated era of school choice, many states—including Minnesota—and federal officials may be turning their attention to the reform model offered by full-service community schools.

Full-service community schools offer a holistic approach to education that is about much more than students’ standardized test scores or the number of AP classes a school offers. Instead, this model seeks to reposition schools as community resource centers that also provide academic instruction to K-12, or even Pre-K-12, students.

In Minnesota, a handful of districts have adopted this model, often with impressive results.

The state’s longest running full-service community schools implementation is in Brooklyn Center, a very diverse suburb just north of Minneapolis. Since 2009, the city’s public school district has operated under the full-service model, providing such things as counseling and medical and dental services alongside the traditional academic offerings of the school system.

In recent months, Brooklyn Center’s community schools approach has been put to the test, due to both the ongoing pandemic and the unrest that erupted after George Floyd was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020. In April 2021, as Chauvin’s murder trial was underway a few miles away in downtown Minneapolis, a white Brooklyn Center police officer shot and killed a young Black man named Daunte Wright during a traffic stop.

This layering of trauma upon trauma might have broken the Brooklyn Center community apart, as large protests soon took place outside the city’s police headquarters and caused disruption among residents—many of whom are recent immigrants and refugees. During this turmoil, school district staffers, already familiar with the needs of their community, were able to quickly mobilize resources on behalf of Brooklyn Center students and families thanks to the existing full-service community schools model.

It’s not just urban districts like Brooklyn Center that have benefited from this approach. In rural Deer River, Minnesota—where more than two-thirds of the district’s K-12 students live in poverty, according to federal income guidelines, and 85 Deer River students are listed as being homeless—the school district adopted the full-service model in recent years, thanks to startup grants from state and federal funding sources. Staff in Deer River are reportedly very happy with the full-service model, which allowed them to pivot during the pandemic and provide food, transportation services and other community-specific needs. A local media outlet even noted that the community schools approach enabled school district employees to survey families during the COVID-19 shutdown and provide them with things such as fishing poles and bikes to help them get through this challenging time.

Several other districts across the United States, from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Durham, North Carolina, have also adopted the full-service community schools approach, which is built around sharing power and uplifting communities rather than closing failing schools and shuttling students out of their neighborhoods through open-enrollment or charter school options.

Community Schools Approach Is on the Rise

Disrupting public education through the proliferation of school choice schemes, including charter schools, has long been the preferred education reform model for politicians and wealthy philanthropists in the United States, and while the charter school industry has been able to score billions in federal funding, the full-service community schools model has instead been relegated to the sidelines.

That’s starting to change.

In February 2021, a coalition of education advocacy groups, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, wrote an open letter to congressional leaders asking that more federal dollars be spent on full-service community schools. Most recently, the letter notes, Congress allocated $30 million in funding for such schools nationwide, a number the coalition deemed far too low to meet the “need and demand for this strategy.”

Now, the Biden administration has proposed dramatically bumping this funding up to $443 million, based on the support this model has received from people such as the current U.S. Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona. While giving input to Congress on behalf of Biden’s proposed budget for the Department of Education, Cardona explained that full-service community schools honor the “role of schools as the centers of our communities and neighborhoods” and are designed to help students achieve academically by making sure their needs—for food, counseling, relationships, or a new pair of eyeglasses, and so on—are also being met.

Duke historian Nancy MacLean, author of the superb Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, wrote recently in The Washington Post about the sinister origins of school choice. Its true purpose was to protect segregation and abolish public schools. (For my view, see this article in The New York Review of Books.)

MacLean writes:

The year 2021 has proved a landmark for the “school choice” cause — a movement committed to the idea of providing public money for parents to use to pay for private schooling.

Republican control of a majority of state legislatures, combined with pandemic learning disruptions, set the stage for multiple victories. Seven states have created new school choice programs, and 11 others have expanded current programs through laws that offer taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schooling and authorize tax credits and educational savings accounts that incentivize parents moving their children out of public schools.

On its face, this new legislation may sound like a win for families seeking more school options. But the roots of the school choice movement are more sinister.

White Southerners first fought for “freedom of choice” in the mid-1950s as a means of defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which mandated the desegregation of public schools. Their goal was to create pathways for White families to remove their children from classrooms facing integration.

Prominent libertarians then took advantage of this idea, seeing it not only as a means of providing private options, but also as a tool in their crusade to dismantle public schools altogether. This history reveals that rather than giving families more school options, school choice became a tool intended to give most families far fewer in the end.

School choice had its roots in a crucial detail of the Brown decision: The ruling only applied to public schools. White Southerners viewed this as a loophole for evading desegregated schools.

In 1955 and 1956, conservative White leaders in Virginia devised a regionwide strategy of “massive resistance” to the high court’s desegregation mandate that hinged on state-funded school vouchers. The State Board of Education provided vouchers, then called tuition grants, of $250 ($2,514 in 2021 dollars) to parents who wanted to keep their children from attending integrated schools. The resistance leaders understood that most Southern White families could not afford private school tuition — and many who could afford it lacked the ideological commitment to segregation to justify the cost. The vouchers, combined with private donations to the new schools in counties facing desegregation mandates, would enable all but a handful of the poorest Whites to evade compliance.


Other Southern states soon adopted voucher programs like the one in Virginia to facilitate the creation of private schools called “segregation academies,” despite opposition from Black families and civil rights leaders. Oliver Hill, an NAACP attorney key to the Virginia case against “separate but equal” education that was folded into Brown, explained their position this way: “No one in a democratic society has a right to have his private prejudices financed at public expense.”


Despite such objections, key conservative and libertarian thinkers and foundations, including economists Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, Human Events editor Felix Morley and publisher Henry Regnery, backed the White Southern cause. They recognized that White Southerners’ push for “freedom of choice” presented an opportunity to advance their goal of privatizing government services and resources, starting with primary and secondary education. They barely, if ever, addressed racism and segregation; instead, they spoke of freedom (implicitly, White freedom).


Friedman began promoting “educational freedom” in 1955, just as Southern states prepared to resist Brown. And he praised the Virginia voucher plan in his 1962 book, “Capitalism and Freedom,” holding it up as a model for school choice everywhere. “Whether the school is integrated or not,” he wrote, should have no bearing on eligibility for the vouchers. In other words, he knew the program was designed to fund segregation academies and saw it as no barrier to receiving state financing.


Friedman was far from alone. His fellow libertarians, including those on the staff of the William Volker Fund, a leading funder on the right, saw no problem with state governments providing tax subsidies to White families who chose segregation academies, even as these states disenfranchised Black voters, blocking them from having a say in these policies.


Libertarians understood that while abolishing the social safety net and other policies constructed during the Progressive era and the New Deal was wildly unpopular, even among White Southerners, school choice could win converts.


These conservative and libertarian thinkers offered up ostensibly race-neutral arguments in favor of the tax subsidies for private schooling sought by white supremacists. In doing so, they taught defenders of segregation a crucial new tactic — abandon overtly racist rationales and instead tout liberty, competition and market choice while embracing an anti-government stance. These race-neutral rationales for private school subsidies gave segregationists a justification that could survive court review — and did, for more than a decade before the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional.

When challenged, Friedman and his allies denied that they were motivated by racial bigotry. Yet, they had enough in common ideologically with the segregationists for the partnership to work. Both groups placed a premium on the liberty of those who had long profited from white-supremacist policies and sought to shield their freedom of action from the courts, liberal government policies and civil rights activists.

Crucially, freedom wasn’t the ultimate goal for either group of voucher supporters. White Southerners wielded colorblind language about freedom of choice to help preserve racial segregation and to keep Black children from schools with more resources.

Friedman, too, was interested in far more than school choice. He and his libertarian allies saw vouchers as a temporary first step on the path to school privatization. He didn’t intend for governments to subsidize private education forever. Rather, once the public schools were gone, Friedman envisioned parents eventually shouldering the full cost of private schooling without support from taxpayers. Only in some “charity” cases might governments still provide funding for tuition.

Friedman first articulated this outlook in his 1955 manifesto, but he clung to it for half a century, explaining in 2004, “In my ideal world, government would not be responsible for providing education any more than it is for providing food and clothing.” Four months before his death in 2006, when he spoke to a meeting of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), he was especially frank. Addressing how to give parents control of their children’s education, Friedman said, “The ideal way would be to abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it.”

Today, the ultrawealthy backers of school choice are cagey about this long-term goal, knowing that care is required to win the support of parents who want the best for their children. Indeed, in a sad irony, decades after helping to impede Brown’s implementation, school choice advocates on the right targeted families of color for what one libertarian legal strategist called “forging nontraditional alliances.” They won over some parents of color, who came to see vouchers and charter schools as a way to escape the racial and class inequalities that stemmed from White flight out of urban centers and the Supreme Court’s willingness to allow White Americans to avoid integrating schools.

But the history behind vouchers reveals that the rhetoric of “choice” and “freedom” stands in stark contrast to the real goals sought by conservative and libertarian advocates. The system they dream of would produce staggering inequalities, far more severe than the disparities that already exist today. Wealthy and upper-middle-class families would have their pick of schools, while those with far fewer resources — disproportionately families of color — might struggle to pay to educate their children, leaving them with far fewer options or dependent on private charity. Instead of offering an improvement over underfunded schools, school choice might lead to something far worse.

As Maya Angelou wisely counseled in another context, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” If we fail to recognize the right’s true end game for public education, it could soon be too late to reverse course.

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding is a champion of public schools in a state with many charters and vouchers.

He writes:

A primary purpose for the creation of the common school system for all the children of all the people was to maintain a republican form of government. Knowledgeable people in unity with one another will ward off tyranny, in favor of liberty and equality. A virtuous government operating for the common good is the goal.

Common is a term of art that has universally-accepted meaning. As applied to school, it indicates a place or institution that serves all children free of charge, paid for by taxation. It relates to the community at large, in a symbiotic relationship.

Common means “belonging to all, used jointly, shared by all.” The “common” system is required by the Ohio constitution, and the “system” must be thorough and efficient.

Tax-supported vouchers and charters are foreign to the common school system required by the constitution. They are not only foreign to the system, but are parasitical in taking funds away from the common system. These schemes divide, rather than unite. They serve not all, but selected students. Their goal does not necessarily match the goal of the common system—to maintain the republican form of government. Their relationship to the community is often strained or non-existent, as opposed to symbiotic.

The No Child Left Behind Act Has Put The Nation At Risk

Vouchers Hurt Ohio

William L. Phillis | Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding | 614.228.6540 |ohioeanda@sbcglobal.net| http://ohiocoalition.org