It’s no secret that there is an imbalance among Texas public school students in which the quality of their education depends on their ZIP code. Instead of addressing this, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced last month that in the next legislative session he would prioritize pushing private school vouchers — an alternative to public schools where taxpayer’s money would be set aside for families to use at a private school of their choice.
According to the Texas Tribune, Patrick addressed the critics of school choice by stating, “People who oppose school choice, in my view, oppose the poorest in our state, the most underprivileged in our state, because we’re holding them back from education opportunities.”
Using Patrick’s neoliberal logic, school choice would create competition where eventually the poorly-performing schools would shut down due to low attendance, which would increase the amount of better performing schools until bad schools can no longer exist because they are not economically sustainable. Thus, the imbalance between minority and privileged students would vanish without the government playing a role in education.
Patrick and other advocates of school choice are framing their defense around a savior complex to help minority students when in reality the school choice debate is only another battleground in the power struggle between governmental and private institutions. Sprinkled all over the scholarship that advocates school choice, freedom is their keyword and the ultimate goal. It is the freedom to allow parents to choose which education is right for their children. It is the freedom to have an educational model that aligns with your religious affiliation. It is the freedom to treat education like a commodity in a free-market economy.
However, treating education under a free market model is a careless mistake which would have a laundry list of consequences. Most importantly, it risks widening the achievement gap among minority students when it comes to college enrollment.
Under a deregulated system, private schools are able to teach or withhold information as they see fit. For secondary schools, this could pose a substantial problem if students are preparing for college when they lack the proper foundation to succeed. Our current college admission system assumes that the students have either the same, or very similar, educational backgrounds. School choice programs could disrupt this balance and if minority students are the ones benefiting the most from private school vouchers, they could fall farther behind than they already are.