“I can dare to be poor, which is the only thing now-a-days that men are ashamed of.”
John Gay, Polly
Consider the probable effects of a state system of subsidized school choice for parents, the amount of the grant being graduated from 80% of the tax cost per pupil of their child’s presently assigned public school (for the poorest among families) to, say, 30% for the child of those families of average wealth.
(If your school spends $15,000 and they are really poor, your mom and dad get $12,000 for the school of their choice. The average income parent gets $4,500.)
The focus of our national problem lies in the inner-city, and I will so limit my speculation. I will assume also that any (freely) participating private school will have full control over at least half of its admissions with some system of blind selection for the balance.
Be clear: Your scribe here has been a promoter of charters, vouchers and the like for more than half a century. For some, such age and experience bring wisdom, for others prejudice. You decide.
Bad effects of choice among the poor
- On certain children
For five or 10 years, some children of the poor may be losers, as their parents are slow to value or even grasp the reality of their new power, hence will fail to review their child’s situation with the new options. (And hence, the obvious need for an interim system for sophisticating the parent.)
- The challenge to the old school
Inner-city public schools may be slow in responding to the new challenge of competition. Though I am assuming it would be in the district’s control, it will be a new experience with winners and losers from the present structure.
- Bad choices
Some parents will make choices that they will come to regret. Of course, such mistakes will be not only temporary but instructive; and now other choices will be available – even a return to old P.S. 22.
- Bad schools
Even assuming constitutionally sound criteria for participation, inevitably there will be schools that give various observers (and possibly myself) the shudders.
- Civic role of the “ordinary” parent
All these newly empowered adults will at last embody that fundament of civic liberty and dignity that is the promise of the 14th Amendment. Parenthood as a locus of authority will come to signify a species of weight and moment.
There exists already a strong public majority favoring some workable system of parental choice. It is no stretch to expect the criticism of such change gradually to fade as it becomes an ever-widening reality. Attention politician!
Test scores of low-income (but chosen for) children will continue to rise.
- Effects on the child
Perhaps most important among the intellectual and moral responses of the child who witnessed his or her parents’ choice is the affirmation of the sheer importance of the role of parent – of its dignity and authority – of its power to help me. Creating my own family becomes a role to which I just might aspire
The child comes to see the engaged parent as a civil actor – a voter, a critic, one who takes the law seriously and cares about the future of our country.
America gets to be seen as a land where this self of mine will soon participate as an adult citizen, maybe responsible for my own family and certainly for the soul of my nation. They tell me it has flaws; maybe I can help fix them.
Perhaps it will even become more cool to join the Savers than the Ravers.