Bait and Switch with “Parent Choice”?

charter schools public schools education
A new legislature will be seated soon and will be pressed to push through new charter-friendly legislation including “choice” bills.

A sweeping charter school bill was defeated last year in the Oklahoma Legislature. If passed, they would have allowed investor-owned charters to spring up in direct competition to public schools everywhere, even in the smallest of towns.

The “reform” argument was the same as it has always been when selling “education reform”: (Said with big, sincere eyes) We cannot allow poor children to continue to be trapped in under-performing schools. So, we have to have competition to help these kids break out.

But the actual concern is not for the poor. It’s about the poor and the liberty of more powerful people to remove their children from the presence of poor children.

A mechanism for letting this happen is “parent choice” or “school choice”. And since bills that would just muscle in charters state-wide were defeated last year in the Oklahoma Legislature, the “choice” attack on public schools is back.

“Choice” bills already being filed in Oklahoma Legislature

From the looks of bills already being filed in the Oklahoma legislature, there will be a reset of strategies. A big push for “parent choice” through vouchers will be the approach this year.

In other states where “choice” was sold and passed, the introduction of for-profit investor-owned charters soon followed.

It’s proven to be a winning strategy for getting investor charters into states that have been resistant to direct attempts to charterize the state.

Scholarship opens the door for “choice”

The first opening for “choice” in Oklahoma was to allow parents of children who were on an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) to receive scholarships from the state to transfer their child to a private school if they believe that she/he will receive a better education. (IEPs are developed to make accommodation for particular measured learning or physical disabilities that a student may have.)

It is important to note two things about the application process for the scholarship, called the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship for Children with Disabilities:

  1. The public school is where the effort and expense of testing and developing the IEP takes place.
  2. There is no provision for determining the income of the parents.

So, once the large effort is made in the public school to do the assessments and then write a quite lengthy IEP that meets all federal requirements, the student is then paid state funds to transfer to a private school that may or may not even have a teacher who is trained to deal with a child with that particular disability.

In addition, the parents can be wealthy and plenty able to pay for a private education.

One problem with allowing this is to set the precedent that parents can just individually take their tax money with them to whatever school they want. And we know that isn’t the way that schools are paid for. Any per student figure set for portability is arbitrary since the whole of education expense flows at different levels from year to year even for the same student.

But, the biggest problem with allowing the wealthy to take advantage of this is that the measure was sold, as are all “choice” bills, as a way to keep the poor and people with little means from being “stuck in a low-performing school.”

It turns out that the poor are not the primary beneficiaries of this scholarship. According to some sources, the very first family to take advantage of the loopholes in the process live in a $750, 000+ home.

I don’t doubt the original intent of the scholarship in honor of former Gov. and First Lady Henry’s daughter. Many good people supported the bill believing that it could help students with disabilities.

But the rationale of the scholarship was to use public funds to help those who could not pay on their own. That’s why it was sold as a scholarship. It’s not turning out that way, and I doubt that the architects of it are surprised.

Bait and switch

So, bait with concern for the poor, but switch to benefiting the powerful and privileged. That’s been the winning pattern across the U.S. for charter school investors who are all for “education reform” even if they really don’t know what that might mean.

And there’s no reason to believe that it will be any different in Oklahoma unless we oppose it.