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article imageOp-Ed: School vouchers and 'school choice' may be thorny issue for Bush

By Calvin Wolf     Jan 31, 2015 in Politics
Austin - George P. Bush, Jeb Bush's son and rising political star in Texas, attended a "school choice" rally in Austin and argued that citizens should be able to remove their kids from public schools and put them in charter and private schools. It's a bad move.
Education is always a political hot-button issue, and it's set to become an even bigger issue as far as the 2016 presidential campaign cycle is confirmed. With GOP heavyweight Mitt Romney deciding that he will not run for president for a third time, the undisputed Republican frontrunner is definitely Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and noted education reformer. While some presidential candidates run on their military background, their economic policies, or their business resumes, Bush may be the first in modern times to run primarily on education reform.
Unfortunately for Jeb Bush, his son may be leading him toward political hot water: According to the Associated Press, George P. Bush, a political rising star in Texas, helped lead a "school choice" rally in Austin on Friday, arguing that parents should be able to remove their children from "underperforming" public schools and place them in charter or private schools. Controversy abounds from the "school choice" movement because it involves using tax dollars, in the form of school vouchers, to pay for public school students to switch to private schools.
If Jeb Bush supports George P.'s stance on school choice and school vouchers, it could set up a bruising 2016 campaign season. Millions of public school teachers and parents would strongly disapprove of any presidential candidate who wishes to gut public schools by allowing parents, usually the wealthier and better-connected, to "cut and run" to private schools with the help of taxpayer dollars. While supporters of school choice and school vouchers may be loud and passionate, they will inevitably lose to good reasoning.
Promoting the use of school vouchers is political quicksand, for it is bad policy. The only winnable policy is to support and improve existing public schools, not admit defeat and allow those who can apply for vouchers the quickest to run for the private school hills. If George P. Bush and his supporters do believe that many public schools are "underperforming," they should focus on fixing the sinking ships...not ushering people into lifeboats.
Public education is a ship that can, and must, be saved. Sending out the lifeboats is wrong for two reasons: First of all, there are not enough lifeboats for everyone. Secondly, releasing lifeboats reduces the incentive to save the ship and the countless people still on board. While George P. Bush may win accolades from wealthy parents who want the first seats on the lifeboats, he is hurting the millions more who will never get those seats.
School choice is not available to everyone. Private schools and charter schools, by their very nature, do not have to accept any and all students the way public schools must. To make their statistics more rosy, private and charter schools can choose to only accept wealthy, better-performing students. They will lure these students away from public schools, boosting their own stats while lowering those of the public schools. This creates the false impression that private and charter schools provide superior education and academic preparation, allowing school choice pundits to further claim that public schools are flawed.
In reality, private schools and charter schools simply have higher percentages of students who have the socioeconomic advantages that lead to better grades and test scores.
Using tax dollars to allow students to leave public schools for private schools and charter schools creates an insidious problem: It saps the political will to improve public schools by reducing the amount of sociopolitical clout held by those schools. The parents who would most quickly seek school vouchers are likely to be those parents with the greatest sociopolitical clout — the wealthy, well-connected, politically engaged, and passionate about advocating for their children. Once these parents move their kids from public schools to charter or private schools, they will no longer be concerned with fixing the public schools. Their voice of advocacy switches from "improve my public school" to "improve my private/charter school."
Eventually, the public schools will have little voice and will lose even more funding and resources. Private and charter schools, bolstered with legions of passionate and well-connected new parents, will be able to successfully divert funds from aging public schools to their own new programs. In the end, poor children and their parents will suffer in relative silence, lacking neither the connections nor the voice to speak out.
Fortunately, many will speak out ahead of time, especially against Jeb Bush if he appears to be following his son's support of "school choice" and school vouchers. If you want to send your kid to private school, pay your own money. If you want better education, focus on fixing your public schools. Get involved. Help out. Make a difference.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about George P Bush, Jeb bush, Jeb Bush 2016, school vouchers, school choice
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