Jonas Persson Explores the History of School Choice: What He Finds Isn’t Pretty

After reviewing the history of vouchers, Jonas Persson at PR Watch concludes “‘choice’ was always predicated on parents choosing private—sometimes even segregated—schools. Vouchers were not proposed with equity in mind; they were cooked up out of an ideological disdain for public schools and teachers’ unions.”

Persson article is enlightening, if not sad. We all need to understand the real motives and purposes of the school choice movement if we want to save our public education system. Here’s an excerpt from Persson informative piece:

“As if hit by a collective wake-up call, voucher advocates suddenly realized that the pipe dream of a free market “utopia,” where public schools and democratic school boards were consigned to the dustheap of history, could actually be realized. All it took was some posturing and a great deal of cynicism.

‘In today’s world,’ the rightwing quarterly The Public Interest suggested in a 1988 article, ‘those who would expand choice programs face many legal and political obstacles. Linking choice programs and integration may be their best bet.’ The New Right had, as The Black Commentator eloquently explained in a 2004 article, found its missing link:

Former Reagan Education Secretary William Bennett understood what was missing from the voucher political chemistry: minorities. If visible elements of the Black and Latino community could be ensnared in what was then a lily-white scheme, then the Right’s dream of a universal vouchers system to subsidize general privatization of education, might become a practical political project. More urgently, Bennett and other rightwing strategists saw that vouchers had the potential to drive a wedge between Blacks and teachers unions, cracking the Democratic Party coalition. In 1988, Bennett urged the Catholic Church to “seek out the poor, the disadvantaged…and take them in, educate them, and then ask society for fair recompense for your efforts”–vouchers. The game was on.

In the late ’80s, conservative think tanks and advocacy groups across the nation launched massive whitewashing campaigns; they started churning out policy reports and books purporting to show how school vouchers would actually benefit minority students. Examples include: We Can Rescue Our Children: The Cure for Chicago’s Public School Crisis (Heartland Institute, 1988) and Liberating Schools: Education in the Inner City (Cato Institute, 1990).

By proposing schemes with vouchers weighted to boost racial diversity, or restricted to children from low-income families, the organizations pushing vouchers were able to kill two birds with one stone. They made them acceptable by obscuring the segregationist history, and, crucially, they could now cast themselves as the ‘new’ civil rights movement.”
"Participants hold up signs during an Americans For Prosperity "Tallahassee Days Rally" March 3, 2014 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Participants hope to meet with their elected officials this week to discuss issues including tax cuts, pension reform, school choice and accountability for education spending. The 2014 Florida legislative session starts Tuesday. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)"

(AP Photo/Phil Sears)

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