On School Choice

This question came from the Daily Herald Survey

"What role can and should school choice play in your district? If Congress or the state approves a voucher system or other means giving students broader choices among public and private schools, how will that affect your district?  What is the appropriate response for the board of education of a public school system?

We have become a choice society.  We no longer walk in for just a cup of coffee; we want it with mocha and 1% milk. Indian Prairie has been deliberative in our approach to providing avenues for all students.  Becoming a part of the John C. Dunham STEM School, the eLo consortium, programs such as VEI (Virtual Enterprises International) are a few examples of choices we provide to our students. The important point to remember is we provide these choices under the umbrella of a public school system within the requirements of state and federal regulations and accountability. In addition, we do this at a lower than state average operating cost per student of $11,500, vs $12,800. 

Choice within the public school system is appropriate because it allows all students, no matter race, gender, or level of wealth, to benefit.  School choice in the form of charters, and vouchers, does not guarantee service to all students, and has hidden costs, such as diminishing the teacher pipeline.  (Stanford, 2017)   

In an article “Coming Full Circle”, Professor Robert A. Garda, , explains how modern education reforms such as school choice, and finance reforms have been working to create a separate but “equal” education system once again. 

“The current reform movements displace integration in the American conscience as the best route to equality by creating a false belief that minority achievement gaps can be eliminated in separate schools”. (Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy)   

School Choice, at the core, is an avenue to separate and segregate our schools. There was a time when I believed the United States had conquered discrimination and segregation.  However, during my involvement with the referendum for a third high school in 2005, I was confronted with the realization that the fear of going to a school with a greater number of minority students, brought out the worst in folks.  The experience raised my awareness, and it motivated me to become involved in changing hearts and minds.  

The day after the referendum passed, I signed up to be trained as a dialogue facilitator for the City of Aurora.  I soon brought dialogue circles to the Parent Diversity Advisory Council.  If at the heart of school choice is a fear of those who are different, then my hope is that we will continue to dialogue, so we can move beyond this false belief that a separate school will help students.  

Our government has to consider if school choice provides the opportunity equitably for all students.  Within public school systems, we strive to do that.  That is the mission.