Universal Choice or Bust!

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my column on why the school choice movement should make a clear commitment to universal choice:

The choice movement has gained a great deal. A supermajority of U.S. states—30 of them—have school choice programs, plus two territories as well (the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico). Eighteen states, including Oklahoma, have two or more programs! As a result, over half a million students attend private schools using public funds. That’s a long way from the tiny voucher program in Milwaukee that launched the modern school choice movement in 1990.

The question is, what is the choice movement going to do with that success? Keep racking up programs that are limited in the number of students they can serve, and in the schools those students are allowed to choose? Or think about what it would mean to take things to the next level? There are almost 51 million K-12 students in public schools; while I have no doubt that a lot of them are in the right place, and wouldn’t exercise choice if they had it, it seems like the time has come to aim higher.

Universal choice isn’t just the right thing on the merits. It’s also politically expedient:

One of the great ironies of life is that the least pragmatic thing to be is a pure pragmatist. “Forget about high ideals and just do what works” may get you by in the short run. In the long run, however, the only thing that actually “works” is high ideals. Without them, cynicism and distrust erode social cooperation, and there is no basis on which to settle disputes about what is permitted.

We see that principle illustrated in the history of the modern choice movement. The more we’ve compromised the ideal of universal choice, the more headaches we’ve ended up with. Bigger and broader programs are more stable and thrive better.

Exercise your universal choice of free speech to let me know what you think!

3 Responses to Universal Choice or Bust!

  1. sstotsky says:

    https://youtu.be/aMTNvb1R1Y4 Interview with Sandra Stotsky by Duke Pesta

    Insert where you can. We briefly discuss portability and school choice.

  2. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    1. (Forster): ” … over half a million students attend private schools using public funds. That’s a long way from the tiny voucher program in Milwaukee that launched the modern school choice movement in 1990.
    The question is, what is the choice movement going to do with that success? Keep racking up programs that are limited* in the number of students they can serve, and in the schools those students are allowed to choose?”
    (Forster, “Federal Choice Folly, comment, July 17, 2020 at 6:24 pm): “There are now over 60 school choice programs in 30 states. Most are over ten years old. The theoretical possibility that choice would invite political meddling with schools has not been realized in any of them, because the existence of choice creates a politica l coalition interested in protecting the program.”

    Note the passive voice. “are limited” by whom? How is legislatively limited not political meddling?

    2. Would “universal choice” include parents’ choice of curricula and the method of instruction (e.g., paid apprenticeship programs)? If not, why not?

    3. How do we get from here to there? Who will bell the cat?

    4. Credit by exam for all courses required for graduation, at any age and at any time of year, would bust the $1 trillion+ per year US K-PhD credential racket. The President could do this TODAY, without Congress. The President exercises legitimate control over two K-12 school systems (the DOD and BIE schools) and five post-secondary schools (the service academies).

    • Greg Forster says:

      1) Limits on choice programs are bad, for the reasons I indicated in my article. They are not an example of the same type of political meddling with school policy and curricula that were being discussed in the other thread. They are, to some extent, a different kind of meddling. Hence the importance of universal choice, especially in the form of ESAs, which remove that form of meddling.

      2) Of course! That’s one of many reasons ESAs are a superior form of school choice.

      3) A lot of hard work and slow going, pushing to expand existing programs and to start new ones with fewer restrictions. Nothing this big happens in less than about twenty years, give or take. And it takes a lot of dedicated people, which thankfully the movement has.

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