Jonathan Butcher, my former colleague and an occasional guest blogger on JPGB, has an interesting new piece in Education Next on the flurry of expanding school choice over the last few years. It begins with a bang:
One year ago, the Wall Street Journal dubbed 2011 “the year of school choice,” opining that “this year is shaping up as the best for reformers in a very long time.” Such quotes were bound to circulate among education reformers and give traditional opponents of school choice, such as teachers unions, heartburn. Thirteen states enacted new programs that allow K–12 students to choose a public or private school instead of attending their assigned school, and similar bills were under consideration in more than two dozen states.
With so much activity, school choice moved from the margins of education reform debates and became the headline. In January 2012, Washington Post education reporter Michael Alison Chandler said school choice has become “a mantra of 21st-century education reform,” citing policies across the country that have traditional public schools competing for students alongside charter schools and private schools.
But Jonathan goes on to warn that legal challenges are taking some shine off of the choice victories:
We must wait to see which laws will survive legal challenges and whether students will enroll while judges consider the programs’ constitutionality. While school-choice laws arrived en masse in 2011, and the laws that passed are bolder than ever, lawsuits keep the systemic change reformers hope for just out of reach.
As Terry Moe has warned, our political system is designed to offer many opportunities for organized interests to block new programs. Then again, the courts are the establishment’s last ditch effort to block a program. And the more they have to go to the courts the more they are losing, even if they occasionally halt a program with a legal challenge.