In his recent commentary, “Why I’m voting against Biden’s nominee for education secretary,” U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is right on the money with his observations that “education is a great equalizer” and that “education is our generation’s civil rights issue.” While one would be hard-pressed to find any American who would disagree with this premise given the challenges facing our nation and its PK-12 public education system, the policy prescriptions of charter schools, public money for private schools, privatization and private school choice he lauds can result in outcomes that are contradictory to these goals and values.
For one, the option of private school choice, one of the approaches that Sen. Scott, R-S.C., views as commonsense solutions to school reform, can hardly be seen as one that truly equalizes educational opportunities or reflects civil rights ideals. School choice leads to capital, both financial and human, being funneled away from our traditional public schools, leaving behind an oasis of underachievement at schools surrounded by impoverished communities where there is a lower tax base to support education.
Further, in direct contradiction to the ideals of civil rights and the goals of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, school choice results in de facto segregation occurring as a result of custom, circumstance or personal choice as opposed to segregation sanctioned by law. Leading scholars in the field such as Gary Orfield of The Civil Rights Project at UCLA have expressed concerns about the re-segregation of public education in the post-Brown era that is the result of shortsighted polices such as private school choice.
In recent years, many parents, educators and policymakers in education have begun to question whether the Brown decision has had a substantive or symbolic impact on racially desegregating or providing quality education equity. Leaving behind students of color in broken, under-resourced public school systems that still face challenges escaping that system even with private school vouchers, often due to issues associated with proximity and transportation, is not a true reflection of equalization in education or the ideals or intentions of civil rights.
School reform policies Sen. Scott contends are commonsense approaches to improving our education system, such as charters, using public funding to support religiously affiliated private schools and privatization, undermine goals associated with greater equity in PK-12 education because the end result is general resources are taken away from traditional public schools. This weakens our traditional public education system with less money available to support public schools given the funneling of public money to support private education. It is a deeply flawed assertion when policymakers argue that these approaches to school reform can serve as an incentive for public schools to improve. How can they be expected to improve when these policies undercut critical resources needed to enhance our traditional public education system?
Recent state legislation, such as H.3589, S.208 and a current education savings account bill offering some $6,500 for private school education, are laying the groundwork for these approaches to school reform that pose challenges for traditional public education. True education reform that adheres to the goals and values of equity and civil rights is not advocating for more charter schools, private school choice, public funding for religiously affiliated private schools and privatization.
Rather, school reform resulting in greater choice and innovation can be achieved by researching and implementing best practice models for quality public education such as the creation of community schools. As a society we cannot afford to turn our backs on traditional public education where the majority of Americans were educated during their formative years. Supporting and investing in this system is paramount to achieving greater equity and honoring principles associated with civil rights.
Kendall Deas, Ph.D., is a professor of education policy and law at the College of Charleston and a director of the Quality Education Project.
This content was originally published here.