(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Dr. Fuller talks to RedefinED’s Travis Pillow on their podcast to discuss means testing, Nevada, etc. Dr. Fuller makes a number of good points, starting with the fact that just as universal choice never made any secret of what they view of what constituted an ideal choice program, that universal opponents like Fuller made no secret of their position. Fair enough.
Dr. Fuller states on a couple of occasions in the podcast that once you reach a certain level of wealth that the state should not be giving any aid for you to go to private school. In my view it is context that leads me to disagree with what otherwise seems like a perfectly reasonable proposition. That context is as follows: the podcast notes that currently the wealthy often wall themselves off in a highly economically segregated public school system that works to their advantage. Every state constitution guarantees public education and its not going anywhere, nor do I suspect that the ability of the wealthy to create enclaves within that system will be going anywhere any time soon.
Add this in to the fact that the wealthy pay more taxes than anyone else, but (uniquely of any education option) find themselves excluded from many private choice programs and we look to have created a powerful incentive for the wealthy to actively oppose private choice. Policymakers took the decision to make public schools universal long ago, and every other option- open enrollment, magnet schools, charter schools, dual enrollment, online learning has followed suit. School district offer the wealthy billions- they might say the ability to use and shape the billions they put in. If private choice offers them nothing which side of our struggle will they will find more appealing?
Imagine a district school official telling a student “Sorry Johnny we would let you participate in our dual enrollment program, but your parents pay too many taxes so it disqualifies you.” How about “We regret to inform you Susanne that your parents income has been too high to allow you to attend the University of Arkansas-which is reserved for low and middle-income taxpayers.” How about “economic diversity will not be tolerated in charter schools. We have learned about your father’s high income and you are hereby expelled!”
It has been easy to overlook this issue thus far as private choice has been very small. Growth beyond boutique status however necessitates confronting this sort of issue squarely. I think we have our hands full fighting the union bosses, superintendents, etc. without going out of our way to make enemies out of high income people in a way no other education option would even seriously entertain.
Wisconsin lawmakers would not have launched the modern school choice movement without a left-right alliance that required means-testing. I’ve supported a number of means tested programs in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. I don’t believe however that means-testing represents either a feature of an ideal private choice program or an ideal strategy for the private choice moving forward. I do however agree with Dr. Fuller that we ought to make very conscious efforts both in the crafting of private school choice laws and in their implementation to guarantee the participation of low-income children. In Nevada I believe you will see philanthropic effort focus on Vegas, not on Incline Village. This is as it should be.
We should be very serious about inclusiveness in my view, but the river needs to flow both ways.