Curmudgucation: When Choice Doesn't Put Parents First
I often say that vouchers and neo-vouchers are not about empowering parents--they're about getting government out of education and giving private operators an open shot at a marketplace.
It's true that I can't know the minds of choice advocates, but I can play the what if game. I can ask, "If X were true, what would that look like?" rather than sift through the details of what is.
If parent empowerment were really our North Star, then what sorts of things do I imagine we'd see? I think we'd see choicers putting pressure on private schools to be more accepting, arguing that schools that refuse to take students because they're LGBTQ or not born again are infringing on parents' right to choose a school for their children. I think we'd see demands that parents be given some tools for navigating the marketplace, with at least the kind of safeguards that the average grocery shopper has come to expect. I think we'd see protections written into these new voucher/esa laws to cover the risks that a family takes on the open market.
But instead, the new raft of laws contains protections for the private operators, clauses specifically noting that a voucher-accepting school is not a government actor, that nothing in the law gives the government the right to regulate or oversee what the school does. In some cases, a vendor can be blackballed if they fail to deliver--but there's no corresponding recourse for the families they failed to deliver to. Grifters, liars, incompetents, have-baked outfits that fold up mid-year--there's nothing to protect parents from these folks, and no safety net for parents who fall prey. For families, it's caveat emptor all the way.
What I conclude is that, when push comes to shove, many choice advocates value free market and private entrepreneur autonomy over parent empowerment. Which is certainly a value one can hold; one can, I expect, even believe that without free marketeering autonomy for entrepreneurs, you can't have choice. But then you're talking about a market driven by what vendors want to offer, and not what parents want to choose--which, again, is a policy preference you can certainly have, but it's not the same as the whole parental empowerment narrative that some folks are selling.
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