As the debate over charter schools heats up in Kentucky, we find many prominent education leaders repeating the idea that school choice should be opposed because it "drains money" away from traditional public schools. I've written about this argument previously, but it's worth revisiting again. A little bit of reflection reveals its logical flaw. We can provide public services without dictating where those services are procured. We do it all the time and respect the dignity of the public to make their own choices.
I have enormous respect for many friends and colleagues who work tirelessly in traditional public school environments. My own career has been devoted primarily to serving public school institutions as a teacher and administrator. My work as a university professor focuses on preparing the next generation of school leaders, the vast majority of whom will serve in traditional public schools. We have many excellent public schools in Kentucky, and I commend the endless efforts of the teachers and administrators who do great work in service of their students, and by extension to the entire Commonwealth.
But my career has also taught me that no school, no matter how good, can meet the needs of every single child. Families deserve a wide variety of options so they can find a learning environment where their children can thrive. Affluent families already have many educational choices because they can buy houses in the school districts of their choice or pay tuition for non-public school options if those are deemed best for their children. Low income families usually have no such options.
That's why, in addition to supporting high-quality traditional public schools, I support a wide range of school choice policies, including scholarship tax credits, charter schools, education savings accounts, and homeschooling for those families who find that to be their best fit. Providing these kinds of choices does not undermine our collective commitment to education, but it does require us to rethink the way we've delivered (and financed) education services in the past.
We have an economic and moral obligation to generously fund education. But it does not logically follow that the only way we can do this is by forcing low-incoming families to receive education from a government-run school.