A lot of attention has been focused lately on “school choice,” and I will be no different this week. I’ll be blunt: Don’t fall for Gov. Kim Reynolds’ “school choice” initiative. It isn’t even a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it’s a wolf in a shark-skin suit. It’s snake oil. It’s a shell game, and the marks will be our children. This has less to do with expanding choices than it does about privatizing education by dismantling public schools.

Supporters of this Betsy DeVos-hatched plan concede private and charter schools, as well as home schooling, will lure students away from public school systems, but they argue that will coerce public schools into making positive changes. And with funding diverted to charter and private schools, a parent’s choices for their children will expand.

It is based on a competitive market principle, and in the case of struggling public schools it assumes they aren’t motivated to succeed or are too stubborn to make changes.

That is dangerously shortsighted as it does not consider if those “positive changes” require the diverted funds. And change at public schools is impeded by social, economic, environmental or political hurdles.

What if the burden of certain public schools lies in the fact its students have unique challenges inherent to their community?

What happens when struggling schools cannot make changes? What happens to students who can’t transfer to other choices? What happens when those schools are full? What happens to the spill-over students? To the teachers? To the community around the underfunded or closing public schools?

And what happens to the “choice” schools when they absorb underachieving students? Won’t they be faced with the same challenges the public schools face?

Are students underachievers because they aren’t motivated enough? Maybe they have to hold down a job to help support their family. Some of them live in poverty and are challenged by circumstances that come with it.

Public education realizes students are different with myriad gradations in growth and maturity. This was addressed with class sizes conducive to needed attention and by giving teachers and schools the best materials with which to administer those differences. Competition existed against individual abilities and development, not a standardized criteria designed to follow a winner-takes-all directive from politicians.

A spinning wheel of competitive funding is not an educational paradigm. What will happen under the misnomer of “school choice” is public schools will lose students, lose funding and be closed. Students who need those schools will be lost in a three-card monty shuffle because the new system cannot absorb all of them.

That is what the public school system was all about in the first place: To give a first-rate education to all of our children regardless of race, religion, location, economics or hardships.

The best “choice” is to support the public school system by funding it appropriately. Public schools were created to secure and expand American greatness; shouldn’t that be where we start?

Gary Kroeger is a local business owner and advertising executive in Cedar Falls.


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