Thoughts on the Arizona Teacher Strike

As the above article points out, Arizona school teachers go on a strike in an effort to regain taxpayer funds for public education.

A NY Times writer, Paul Krugman, believes that a number of state governments fell into the hands of “extreme right-wing ideologues,” who are trying to usher in a low-tax, small-government, libertarian utopia.

He states some Republicans have been willing to learn from experience, reverse tax cuts and restore education funding.  But he also notes all too many are responding the way Matt Bevin, the conservative Republican governor of Kentucky, did: “Instead of admitting, even implicitly, that they were wrong, they’re lashing out, in increasingly unhinged ways, at the victims of their policies.”1

I agree with Mr. Krugman that perhaps some Republican politicians should better relate to their constituents with respect to the issue of public education funding.  I do not agree necessarily with his proposal to reverse tax cuts and restore education funding that way.  I would like to see education funding in public schools, but it should be done through voluntary community donations and not through mandatory taxpayer money.

As Republican leaders push for school choice, they will inevitably invite backlash from those who support the status quo of public education.  I would prefer that conservatives do not retreat from their long support of school choice, but rather that they recognize that reformers have erred in casually ascribing critiques of dysfunctional big-city systems to all of the nation’s 14,000 districts.  Such a view would recognize two legitimate, competing visions of localism – one geographic, and one voluntary/market-based.  Both have much to recommend them.

Practically speaking, this would mean the following, as proposed by a writer from the National Review:

First, approach school choice as part of an education agenda rather than the sum of it. For instance, career and technical education has such appeal because it’s an inclusive, practical way to address a real concern of countless families — whether their kids will be prepared for the world of work. Expanding online options and dual-enrollment models are examples of choice-based reforms that could complement local systems.

Second, promote school choice with an eye to respecting, rather than slighting, concerns about how “disruption” can upend communities. This means talking about school closures as regrettable, not a bloodless consequence of vibrant markets. It means empathizing with, rather than ridiculing, suburban parents concerned that school choice might disrupt their communities. And it means acknowledging that conventional notions of school choice are frequently a poor answer for much of rural America, where the next-closest junior high might be 40 miles away.

Third, seek policy solutions that respect the healthy desire for both community and choice. For example, some cities have allowed charter schools to employ “neighborhood preferences,” meaning the school remains primarily choice-based but local families have a better shot of getting in. And in New Orleans, most of the charter schools are now overseen by an elected board. While the details matter immensely, there’s real value in seeking ways to empower families while also respecting geographic communities.

Lastly, part of what fuels nervousness about school choice is the sense that communities and their heritage are being sacrificed in the service of some grand policy agenda. This concern can be strongest in conservative communities. In smaller towns, when they talk about schools, residents and community leaders frequently bring up the importance of high-school sports or the ways that elementary schools help bring new parents into community networks. State and local leaders working to expand school choice should explore ways to protect the civic goods offered by local systems, for example by permitting students in choice-based schools to participate in the sports teams of traditional public schools and encouraging partnerships that enable alternative and traditional schools to cooperatively raise funds for good causes and host community activities.2

To summarize the above points:
-approach school choice as a supplement to public education as opposed to a replacement
-respect that transitioning to school choice will raise understandable concerns and politicians should do what they can to comfort their constituents with the transition.
-politicians and their constituents should seek policy solutions that respect both the local community and choice; in other words, treat public education and school vouchers as “both-and,” instead of an “either-or” situation.
-State and local leaders working to expand school choice should explore ways to protect the civic goods offered by local systems and encourage partnerships that enable alternative and traditional schools to cooperatively raise funds for good causes and host community activities.

Also as I already alluded to earlier, public schools could benefit from private citizens in the form of parent-teacher associations, instead of asking the government to provide the funds to support their education.  Parents, especially the affluent ones, should be able to contribute to their public schools if they choose to do so.  That’s the idea behind school vouchers, if I understand the idea properly.  School vouchers are essentially tax money given back to parents, and they can decide how they wish to spend that money, whether it’s back in their local public school or in an alternative school that would teach their child better.

I would also support the idea that parents could partner with schools in less affluent areas and forge a fellowship over time.  As one writer said, “In better understanding that public education extends beyond the five-mile radius of their communities, parents might be willing to share a portion of their considerable resources and social capital to benefit other kids.”3

I love the idea behind school choice, but its proponents, especially among state and local officials, should approach school reform in a manner that’s sensitive to the concerns that their constituents have as we transition from a nearly monopolized public education system to a more innovative one.

In addition, I would propose that public schools seek public fundraising campaigns from their local communities through parent-teacher associations and other non-profit organizations.  I would even invite parents from other school districts to consider donating funds to provide school supplies to students who live in less well-off school districts.  I would much prefer this approach to raise money for public education over asking the government to raise taxes.



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