Scott Reeder: School choice should be an option for all families
SPRINGFIELD — The subject of school choice has come to the forefront in recent weeks with the appointment of Betsy DeVos as the U.S. Education Secretary.
When folks debate the merits of school choice, I can't help but smile.
The fact of the matter is we already have school choice in America.
Bureaucrats sit in school administration buildings and draw lines on maps to determine where your child will go to school in a particular school district. They choose. You don't. And school district boundaries drawn before students — and most of their teachers — were born, play an even bigger role in determining what services will be available for students.
The caliber of education a child receives should not be determined by a family's ZIP code.
For example, the rural school district I live in near Springfield has a limited curriculum. My neighbors tell me youngsters wanting to get into competitive math and science curriculums at top universities are often left disappointed.
Fortunately, my family can afford to send our daughters to a Catholic school in Springfield that offers a more demanding curriculum.
But many folks, whether they live in inner cities or rural areas, just don't have that option.
They lack the money to choose, so their kids are just stuck.
Don't get me wrong, Illinois has some excellent public schools. I attended public schools and universities from kindergarten through graduate school. For the most part, my experiences were good. But like most students, I had some excellent teachers and I had some weaker ones.
Education Secretary DeVos has advocated for voucher programs where money follows the student.
In other words, vouchers could be issued to parents and they could choose where their youngsters learn. They could choose between private, religious, public, online, charter or home-schooling options.
It seems a fair solution.
I've yet to meet a parent who wants to see their child fail.
But teacher unions oppose this idea. They fear it will result in less money going to public schools.
That could happen, but only if public schools fail to compete.
Most folks are quite happy with the public schools their children are attending.
But not all are.
For example, a 2004 Fordham Institute study found that 39 percent of Chicago public school teachers send their own children to private schools. That's compared to a national average of 12 percent of all children who are educated privately.
Think about that.
Four out of 10 Chicago teachers are willing to pay money to keep their kids from attending the schools where they teach.
That speaks volumes.
Those teachers have school choice because they can afford it.
Why shouldn't all families be afforded the same opportunity?
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and produces the podcast Suspect Convictions. He can be reached at ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.