K-12 education is under siege on two fronts: COVID-19 shutting down schools, and the 2020 Democratic hopefuls opposing school choice. And with potential cures being researched, this is an opportune moment to demonstrate the perniciousness motivating the anti-school choice mentality—that is, the equal distribution of educational opportunity. So let us compare this with the equal distribution of COVID-19 treatment: We wouldn’t tell a child he couldn’t be cured for COVID-19 if every other child couldn’t be cured, so why should we tell parents they can’t send their kids to superior schools unless every other kid is allowed to go?
The 2020 hopefuls oppose school choice on egalitarian ideology grounds—i.e., the equal distribution of resources. This argument claims that no person should be permitted to have anything which another person does not. Applied to K-12 education, egalitarianism says that no child should be permitted an educational opportunity which another child does not. And applied to treatment for COVID-19, it would dictate that no child should be permitted to be cured if another child is not offered the cure.
States providing educational opportunities do so by offering school choice, a concept which refers to charter schools, and it is exactly what it sounds like: an alternative to the traditional paradigm of being geographically assigned to a public school. Charter schools are desirable because they lack the burdensome controls of teachers unions, resulting in better educational performance. Charter schools admit students based on a lottery system, so all that is needed to secure this educational opportunity is a parent who takes an interest in their children’s education, and makes the effort to apply.
Through the lens of the egalitarian, anti-school choice mentality, educational opportunity is viewed as follows: not all parents are interested in their children’s education, and thus don’t make the effort to enter the charter school lottery. Students with parents who are in fact interested in their education correlates with educational success. Children cannot control whether their parents are interested in their education. And because not all parents are interested in their children’s education, educational inequalities will result, leaving the most disadvantaged of children behind. This unequal result or “imbalance” is when the cream of the crop rises to the top.
They also throw out the ancillary argument that charter schools aren’t “transparent” like public schools, and thus may have discriminatory enrollment policies, or may be up to no good in general. And so, their reasoning would go: if UPS lacked transparency or was inferior to the U.S. Postal Service, we should abolish UPS, rather than simply using the U.S. Postal Service instead.
Also note that many former and present Democratic hopefuls in the 2020 race have been called out for opposing school choice while exercising school choice by sending their children outside of the public school system. But this hypocrisy is simply political posturing in order to secure the support of the formidable teachers unions. What is relevant here is why a private citizen would vote to limit everyone else’s children’s educational opportunities.
Indeed, it is in our human nature to prefer choice to no choice—the availability of alternatives to the one-size-fits-all. Given that we prefer the freedom to make voluntary decisions rather than having decisions made for us, one wonders: why do Democrats in general oppose school choice—especially Democrats who are parents with children in the K-12 education system?
They oppose school choice because of egalitarianism, an ideology which, if applied to COVID-19 treatment of children, would seem monstrous. Parents presumably would not be in favor of voting to prevent kids from receiving treatment. However, the ideology is equally immoral as applied in both situations: it imposes the forcible confiscation of choice onto others—be it children having COVID-19 treatment available to them or children having educational opportunities available to them. Indeed, there is something obscene in the mentality of those who view one person’s opportunity as another’s loss.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 threatens the 2020 hopeful’s stance on supporting public schooling. That is, COVID-19 is forcing stay-at-home online learning on the school system as a substitute for the traditional in-person teaching paradigm. If the online learning paradigm turns out to be superior—or even preferable in the opinion of parents—to the traditional paradigm, it will be particularly difficult for public school teachers to justify their value.
If, after COVID-19 has subsided and schools go back to the way they were, parents who have experienced a superior alternative will presumably want to continue with it, rather than regress back to the old paradigm. And if the 2020 hopefuls try to override this preference, it will be particularly difficult for them to convince voters that the traditional public school paradigm is not, in fact, a mere jobs program.
Educational choice is a freedom of paramount importance, and the burden of proof ought to be on those who want to limit our freedom. Parents of the anti-school choice persuasion should consider this when voting in the 2020 election.
Andrew Jones has a JD from Emory University School of Law. He has worked at Cato, the Institute for Justice, Bloomberg Tax, and in Republican offices.