Dr. Fuller on RedefinED

(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.



7 Responses to Dr. Fuller on RedefinED

  1. Robin says:

    This is very timely as yesterday I wrote a blog post on the strange alliance that had been involved with the Convergence Policy Center for Dispute resolution’s Re-Imagining Education Project and where else Kelly Young was showing up. Howard Fuller showed up on the Advisory Board of the Project and I did not recognize who he was. Now we have these links to put it all into context and all within the same 24 hours.

    As I tell my readers, apparently we really are supposed to accurately recognize what is going on before the full transformation and not later.


  2. pdexiii says:

    One way to ensure access to choice programs by poor people is enrolling them the moment their children enter the school system.
    At our charter school we’ve observed that many of the children who would be best served by us don’t end up enrolling because the act of getting to our school, filling out the application, returning it by the deadline, and attending a meeting after enrollment is beyond their means. Some folks may say “they’re not concerned parents,” but that’s the reality they face, a reality from which their children should not suffer.
    If these parents had some identifier that allows them to enroll in any school they choose that could ease the process. They would still need advocates-support groups to help them along, but if a media-care card can get you health care in any hospital, a similar identifier should allow you to enroll in the school of your choice.

  3. pdexiii says:

    ‘medicare’..vs. ‘media-care’

    • matthewladner says:


      You raise an important point about “the default” in education- that is, the default in systems with choice is set at the public school. I would prefer a system where the default is set at requiring a parent to make a choice between schools.

      • pdexiii says:

        Exactly; choice should be the default.
        One incremental shift I observe here in LA is parents feeling that they have options. The next steps are 1) more of them, and 2) easier access to them.

  4. Greg Forster says:

    You concede far too much ground here when you say that it would be “perfectly reasonable” to means test access to choice if not for concerns about segregation. Should we also means test access to roads, police, fire protection, sewers, etc.? Why should a hard-working schlub like me have to pay for Bill Gates’ police protection? Let him buy his own security guards!

    • matthewladner says:

      What I meant was basically that I did not decide to make public education universal- it was a decision taken many decades before I was born. If school choice is going to be paid for by everyone – and it will be either directly or indirectly regardless of how it is done- then making private choice unique in excluding well to do people also sets itself up for double hostility from those who pay the most taxes- they pay more for it and get nothing from it. Compare that to their opportunity in controlling gated community schooling in the public school system and well…

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