Patterson: The issue isn’t really school choice, but school choice for whom? - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

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Patterson: The issue isn’t really school choice, but school choice for whom?

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Posted: Monday, March 24, 2014 7:47 am

Left-wing politicians loudly proclaim their concern for the poor and minorities. But is it a fraud?

The allegation is a serious one, that politicians and bureaucrats intentionally stand in the way of educational opportunity for under-privileged children to serve their own political benefit. The charge shouldn’t be made lightly. You be the judge.

The issue isn’t really school choice, but school choice for whom? Wealthy people already have the means to buy their way out of the public school system (like the Obamas) or, more commonly, access the best schools through manipulating the housing market. The Brookings Institution recently reported that housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much near a high-performing public school than near a lousy school. Parents know which are the good schools and are willing to pay for them.

For poor children, the system isn’t that great. They get stuck with the teachers that nobody wants, the worst principals and low test scores in their schools.

Unless, of course, they’re lucky enough to beat the odds and literally win the lottery for admission to a school like New York’s Harlem Success Academy, a public charter school with a long waiting list. At Success Academy 4, 80 percent of the students passed the state math test, compared with 5 percent at public school 149, located in the same building and 30 percent citywide.

It’s no wonder that low income parents, so often blamed as the cause of their children’s academic failures, are begging to get them into Success Academy.

Newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is a “progressive,” a self-anointed champion of the “little people.” His solution: close Success Academy and other charters, cut funding to the remaining charter schools and force these public schools to pay rent.

That’s terrible news for the 194 students forced out of Success Academy, most of whom will be back in public school 149 if the mayor gets his way. It’s great news though for the teachers’ unions, who see charter schools as a threat to union jobs. They’ve urged the mayor to go even further.

But de Blasio isn’t alone in siding with the big people against the children. Washington, D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program has long been a popular option for minority students stuck in one of the nation’s worst public school systems. Children who get the vouchers have a 97 percent graduation rate and 92 percent attend college. Yet, President Obama and Congressional Democrats have repeatedly tried to defund the program. Only the impassioned pleas of the parents have kept it alive.

Eric Holder’s Department of Justice continues to attack Louisiana’s voucher program on the basis of an outdated desegregation order, even though 92 percent of the students in the program are black children fleeing poor public schools.

In Oakland, Calif., the American Indian Model School achieved some of the best test scores in the nation. Yet, when a former school official was accused of financial misdeeds, did the authorities simply indict and try him? No, the California State Board of Education announced plans to close the school!

In Arizona, the education establishment is currently on the warpath against Education Savings Accounts (ESA) grants, which parents can use for educational expenses of their choice (tuition, tutoring, homeschooling supplies, etc.) in lieu of sending their student to public schools. Pretty much the same old arguments are trotted out. Putting parents in charge would impoverish public schools, we’re told, in spite of the fact that there is more total funding per student available in public schools when parents opt to accept ESAs.

It’s not rocket science to figure out what’s going on here. Public school unions are a major supporter of the Democratic Party. They despise not only school choice but merit-based teacher pay and promotion, easier firing of bad teachers, or anything else that challenges union power.

Super-pundit Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman writes: “We should in general oppose privatization plans if they are likely to destroy public-sector unions.” There you have it.

Either public education is primarily a source of union jobs or the way to ensure equality of opportunity for all Americans. We can’t have it both ways.

• East Valley resident Tom Patterson is a retired physician and former state senator. He can be reached at

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