Charles Luke, guest columnist: Segregation driving ‘school choice’ charade
We all know that many politicians are prone to exaggeration. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s recent statement that private school vouchers, or “school choice” as he puts it, is a civil rights issue is just such an exaggeration. In fact, Patrick’s costly voucher schemes could drain billions from local schools and deny many students their right to receive a quality education.
The history of vouchers actually suggests that they were a way to avoid granting civil rights to others. Vouchers were developed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 that schools integrate and end the charade of “separate but equal” treatment of students. For at least a decade, some states simply ignored the ruling, but with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states began to implement “freedom of choice” programs that would allow white parents to take their child to a select school and thereby leave segregation patterns untouched. Mississippi even had “segregation academies” that only white children could attend.
No voucher plan introduced in Texas to date has provided adequate accountability for taxpayer dollars. Other states have seen dire results when state funds are handed to individuals and organizations without state accountability for quality of education. Storefront schools with improper supervision that endanger the lives and education of students spring up with investors concerned only about profit and not the future and well-being of children.
Any serious plan would hold the recipients of state funds to the same curriculum and accountability standards as public schools. This must be done to ensure the welfare of our children.
It is not enough to separate our children from the public schoolhouse and then simply treat them “equally.” All students are not the same and often must be treated differently. My child with spina bifida requires a different level of treatment in the educational environment than another child. A weighted public education funding system ensures that he receives every opportunity to learn — something that voucher plans typically omit. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), he receives facilities accommodations that are not readily available in most private organizations.
If we’re concerned with civil rights, any voucher must come with the requirement the receiving institution comply with all federal codes affecting those with disabilities.
Historically, transportation has not been fully covered in any voucher bill. A civil rights approach would demand that transportation costs to any school the child wanted to attend be included. Otherwise, poor kids stay on the poor side of town and rich kids stay on the rich side and de facto segregation results. Besides, the current transportation allotment for public schools is woefully inadequate and has not been updated for more than 20 years. It’s doubtful the state will find new money to transport children with vouchers.
Any plan truly concerned with civil rights would meet the requirements I have outlined. Over the past few years, I have seen a growing number of parents, community members, ministers, businessmen and stakeholders in education join the ranks of those who oppose vouchers for a variety of reasons. There is history to show that vouchers disguised as “school choice” have repeatedly been used to further segregation around both race and income, and there is ample case law to show that civil rights advocates have fought long and hard to ensure quality educational opportunities for all children.
To call vouchers a “civil rights issue” denies their history and denigrates a hard-fought battle to ensure a free and appropriate public education for all children.
Charles Luke is coordinator of the Texas Coalition for Public Schools.Charles Luke, guest columnist: Segregation driving ‘school choice’ charade - WacoTrib.com: Guest Columns: