(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)
A new documentary narrated by private school dad Matt Damon derides school choice advocates as seeing kids as merely “backpacks full of cash.” The term comes from school choice advocate Jeanne Allen, who was actually making the opposite point, that empowering families with choice means that schools have a powerful incentive to meet their individual needs. Indeed, there is a greater temptation to treat students as mere funding units when the system is used to having a captive audience. Case in point:
A father who pulled his son out of school for three days to see the total solar eclipse. But now his son’s school is threatening his ten-year-old with suspension and prosecution.
“I’d been planning to go to this eclipse ever since I was twelve-years-old and we couldn’t go the one in 1979,” said Richard Wilson.
This summer, Richard Wilson had another chance to see that special solar eclipse with his son.
“So we took my son out of school the first three days to travel to Oregon,” he said.
It’s been a few weeks since they got back. But that eclipse experience just took a dark turn.
Wilson received a letter from his son’s school saying those three absences to see the eclipse won’t be excused.
It warns if his son is absent again, he could be prosecuted and suspended, his driving privileges delayed, and he may be transferred to another school for juvenile delinquents.
Why would the school take such punitive measures against a family that wanted to provide their child with an extracurricular educational experience? And why are the school officials acting as though the child belongs to them, not the child’s parents?
They claim that they just have the child’s best interests in mind, but the family’s attorney has another theory:
“We want to make sure we remind families they are accountable for getting their kids to school,” said Kathy Pon.
Rocklin Unified Deputy Superintendent Kathy Pon says the school is in line with state education law, which says parents or children can be criminally prosecuted for chronic truancy.
But attorneys say the school is using that law to intimidate because it comes down to money.
“School districts get money for every day a child is sitting in their seat, and it goes to show the real interest isn’t the education of their children,” said Attorney Brad Dacus President of the Pacific Justice Institute, “but rather the money they get in their pockets by having children sitting in their seat.”
Per pupil funding is how schools get funded. But Wilson is concerned that this case is overreach. [emphasis added]
This isn’t to say that all district schools overreach as in this case. And certainly the vast majority of teachers — whether in district, charter, or private schools — have their students’ best interests at heart. But at a systemic level, students are much more likely to be treated as individuals — rather than mere funding units — when their families have other options.