For thousands of students, news of probation for Atlanta Public Schools was yet another time that adults key to their education have let them down. And for too many parents, unable to afford other options, it was one more reminder their child’s educational future is too tightly bound by their ZIP code.
National School Choice Week begins Sunday, and the urgency of extending truly equal opportunity for all students — whether in Atlanta or elsewhere — is only growing. Arguments to the contrary rely largely on myths, such as:
1. School choice amounts to “stealing” money from public schools.
Whether you talk about publicly funded charter schools or vouchers for use at any type of school, this objection comes up. It’s wrong-headed.
State-approved charter schools get no more money per student than the local system spends. If one of XYZ School’s 100 students leaves to attend a charter, XYZ will have 99 percent as much funding as before, for 99 percent as many kids.
Yes, fixed costs will remain. But they are the part of school budgets that most need scrutiny. Georgia has even more school systems (186) than it has counties (159), and more can be done to cut administrative expenses and share services to gain efficiencies.
Vouchers are an even better deal for local systems. Georgia’s existing voucher program, for special-needs children, will pay private-school tuition for them. But it won’t cover more than what the state pays traditional public schools per pupil. And the local system retains the locally raised revenue it would have spent on those children.
2. The school-choice movement is for rich kids.
News flash: Rich kids already have school choice. Their families can afford to pay for private school, or to move to a better-performing school district even if housing there is more expensive. School choice is for those families that can’t afford other options. New charter schools tend to pop up in middle- to lower-income neighborhoods.
But, just to be sure, voucher bills introduced in Georgia have included a stipulation that the child attended public schools for the entire previous academic year. A student at, say, Westminster wouldn’t be able to enroll in North Atlanta High School for a week, then move back and collect the voucher.
3. Vouchers won’t cover the full cost of a private education, so they won’t really help poor kids.
A voucher tied to state funding for public-school students would be $5,000 to $7,000 a year. Such a voucher wouldn’t cover the full cost of attending the most-elite private schools. But the Center for an Educated Georgia reports the average yearly tuition at Georgia’s private schools is about $6,600 — well within range of a voucher.
And basic economics suggests that new schools would open if more students could afford to attend them.
4. School choice will mean an exodus of the “best” kids, leaving public schools to deal with the rest.
Students already doing well are unlikely to leave their current schools. School choice is intended for those students who aren’t doing well but can’t afford to move to a school that might be a better fit for them. Data from current programs across the nation suggest only a small percentage of those eligible for school-choice mechanisms actually use them.
5. Choice won’t come to some (read: rural) areas.
Maybe not at first, though online education is removing geographic barriers. But the difficulty in adding choice everywhere mustn’t keep us from adding it where we can, as soon as we can.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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