School Choice: A Solution to Segregation

In July the USA Today reported that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said during an AFT conference in July that school choice programs such as vouchers, tax credits, and charters schools, “are only slightly more polite cousins of segregation”.  She went on to argue “We are in the same fight, against the same forces who are keeping the same children from getting the public education they need and deserve.”

Despite these claims study after study show integration increases or it at least stays the same in locations with school choice. EdChoice writes that the evidence from the studies done on this issue doesn’t support Weingartens claims. According to their research, since 1999, “Ten empirical studies have examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of those, nine find school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools, and one finds no net effect on segregation. No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.”

Weingarten went on to says that “when a family chooses a private school, in reality it is the school and not the family that makes the choice.”

No empirical study has found that choice increases racial segregation.

EdChoice goes on to point out that it is actually the public school monopoly that actually slows integration of schools. They point out, “Public schools are intractably segregated by race, mostly because students are assigned to schools based on where they live. School choice has the potential to break down those residential barriers.”

This isn’t a partisan issue either. Peter Cunningham who served as the assistant secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the first term of the Obama administration wrote a scathing critique of Weingarten’s comments. He wrote, “No institution in America has done more to perpetuate segregation than public schools. Until 1954, segregated schools were legal in America and it was the standard practice in much of the South.”

Cunningham goes onto point out that, “Today, one of America’s most segregated school systems is in New York City, where Randi Weingarten once ran the teachers union. As a recent fight on the Upper West Side of Manhattan shows, even white progressive parents resist integration.”

Weingarten also argued in her speech that the original supporters of school choice were “the white politicians who resisted school integration.”

According to a Research & Commentary by The Heartland Institute, “In response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board (1954) to end segregation in public schools, Prince Edward County shut down all its public schools and gave white families vouchers for use at all-white private schools…Of course, what happened in Prince Edward County and elsewhere in the South at the tail end of Jim Crow is part of the voucher story and deserving of reprobation, but it is not the origin of the voucher story, and it is certainly not the whole of the voucher story.”

 No institution in America has done more to perpetuate segregation than public schools.

Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute points out that the real origin of school choice dates back much further than Jim Crow. He writes, “It’s more accurate to trace the “origin” of vouchers to Tom Paine, 18th-century pamphleteer and crusader for liberty. In his 1791 collection The Rights of Man, Paine called for giving every poor family “four pounds a year for every child under fourteen years of age” and then “enjoining the parents of such children to send them to school, to learn reading, writing, and common arithmetic; the ministers of every parish, of every denomination to certify jointly to an office, for that purpose, that this duty is performed.” Rather than promote universal education via publicly operated schools, Paine called for giving families the funds and then letting them make the arrangements they saw fit. In other words: a voucher.”

So while some bad actors in history may have taken up school choice as a rallying cry during the Jim Crow days today nearly a half millions students are enrolled in private school programs. A addition 2.7 million students are enrolled in charter schools with more than half being minority students.

These programs also have very high approval ratings among minority parents. According to polling conducted by Beck Research LLC, 79-percent of Latinos and 76-percent of African-Americans support the concept of school choice.