Yesterday was a day I should never have done. Twitter was my medium of choice.
This was my reply to The New York TimesNikole Hannah Jones talks to me about her thoughts on the debate over school choice. She is now in full agreement with me, even though it might not seem that way at first. Hannah-Jones said Wednesday. Wednesday.
She is perhaps best-known as a journalist for her 1619 Project reporting, but she also wrote extensively and authoritatively on American education. My reply was that the greatest contributor to today’s segregation is that children without choices are forced into schools according to their zip codes. In other words, telling them to just cough up tuition—especially when they’re already paying for public schools via their tax dollars—is an approach that, in some sense, would naturally discriminate by class. However, not everyone is able to afford them both.
Then she replied with an interesting comment:
Why is it that “school choice” supporters never support eliminating school district boundaries/funding local schools via local property tax, and permitting poor Black students to attend wealthy white schools in neighbouring towns? They just want privatization. https://t.co/fKi39Xsc64
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) October 7, 2021
In that it was not a rebuttal, the response was puzzling. It’s not that she does not present an argument. It is. Because she basically outlines all the arguments school choice supporters have already made. The core argument in favor of school choice is her response.
“One of central tenets in school choice is that your zip code shouldn’t dictate where you go to school,” says Corey DeAngelis. He is the national director for research at American Federation for Children, and a senior fellow with Reason Foundation. Reason Foundation runs this website. “The current government-run school system is inequitable largely because families generally must send their children to a residentially assigned school even if it doesn’t meet their needs….Based on her comments, it appears Hannah-Jones is on our side, even if she didn’t know it at first.”
Let’s begin with the core principle of her argument: we need to allow poor Black students access to white wealthy schools in nearby municipalities. This is something we agree with. No situation offers up a more appropriate microcosm for that argument than the dilemma experienced by Kelley Williams-Bolar, a black woman who used her father’s address to enroll her kids in a better district—and went to prison for it. You can read my article about it here.
Because schools tend to be mirror images of their neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods generally beget poor schools, with fewer resources and less effective teachers. According to Brookings Institution, a school that is heavily populated by minorities is an indicator of lower achievement. U.S. Government Accountability Office discovered that 75-100 percent of schools in which there were a lot of Hispanic or Black students are eligible for free, reduced, or no-cost lunches. They often start their lives behind and are unable to reach the same financial status as their more wealthy counterparts.
Someone like Williams-Bolar should never have been punished for that decision—not only because it’s patently absurd on its face, but because it shouldn’t be against the law.
Derrell Bradford, President of 50CAN says that “Racial minorities generally are already living under the school choice paradigm.” 50CAN is an organization which aims to make sure all children get a quality education, no matter where they live. It’s a great idea. [most] likely you just lie about where you live to get into the school that you want….Rich, poor, or otherwise, lots of communities of color are practicing school choice, they’re just practicing it in all kinds of ways that aren’t always legal.”
This is what it should be. Hannah-Jones seems to agree with me at least partly on the solution. This is eliminating exclusionary zoneing and not funding local property taxes. She is fully correct: Both state levers disadvantage poorer, minority students and set students up to fail—a position that school choice supporters, regardless of political persuasion, do indeed embrace.
Aaron Garth Smith and Christian Barnard are Reason Foundation’s education policy analysts. They write, “If Education were Criminal Justice, School Finance Data highlighting enormous inequities will be the brutal Videos exposing systemically racist Policies in Need of Reform.” The HillThis is. In order to ensure that school funding is equitable, it should be clear that local property wealth does not play a role. Instead, the dollars should be pooled by states and distributed transparently according to student need and enrollment.
These data are encouraging. Research by Brookings Institution and Harvard University shows that students of color can benefit from school choice initiatives. Low-income students who are otherwise trapped in low-income neighborhoods with high property taxes and lower chances of success might also benefit from school choice initiatives.
So, why is there such a divergence? Bradford says, “I think Ms. Hannah Joneses is brilliantly written and has done so much to shed some light on deep and problematic issues within the American public schools system.” (I agree. “For me, and for a lot of school choice advocates…we also believe that the government has a role in financing schooling and running some portion of schooling, but to have a monopoly on it is unhealthy.”
The overlap in ideologies is not surprising, even though it’s significant. According to my previous writings, most black and Hispanic Democrats favor school choice. This may be because, like Hannah-Jones said, they view the core tenets of school choice as being beneficial for their local communities. Teacher unions are a key player in disrupting the natural bipartisanship by opposing charter schools, where teachers may be less likely to join unions.
What IsIt is surprising and disappointing to see the subject become so divided along political lines, that even those who do agree with it would prefer to not acknowledge it.
DeAngelis states, “We’re all on the team.” We can now come together and fix the system’s inequalities by directly financing students, as well as empowering families. After all, education funding is meant for educating children—not for propping up and protecting a particular institution.”