Mitt Romney’s latest statements about his vision for America’s public schools can be summed up by his declaration that it’d be best to let families “vote with their feet” and have federal dollars follow children to private/religious, public, charter, or online schools.
Reckless, foolish, clueless, or all of the above?
Perhaps if someone actually knowledgeable about how public education works in this country were an advisor to Romney’s campaign (such as Margaret Spellings, former Secretary of Education in the Department of Education under George W. Bush), he wouldn’t sound so clueless. Alas, Spellings left the Romney campaign when the candidate said he’d abandon the federal government’s role in ensuring that children receive equitable education and leave everything to market forces. Spellings, a Republican education professional, said of Romney’s plan:
“I have long supported and defended and believe in a muscular federal role on school accountability,” Ms. Spellings said. “Vouchers and choice as the drivers of accountability — obviously that’s untried and untested [emphasis mine].”
Margaret Spellings’ translation: Romney’s ideas are so far off the charts, there’s no way I’d want to be responsible for anything he says.
How are rural families supposed to embrace “school choice”? Where will their feet go in the event that the next public school — or school of any kind — is one hundred miles away? Are rural parents really going to be happy their children learn online like penned veal, with no science labs, no athletic facilities, no afterschool enrichment, extracurricular clubs, or human contact other than one’s own family?
What about the Constitution, which has traditionally limited public funding for private religious schools and restricted religious activity on public school grounds to preserve a protective wall between church and state? Are we taxpayers prepared to pay for religious instruction we don’t necessarily agree with? Will evangelicals want to deny Mormons their schools on the grounds that they don’t believe Mormonism is a religion? Xenophobic or not, there is already discomfort about taxpayer dollars funding the Turkish-culture influenced Gulen Charter schools in Texas or a Scientologist-operated charter in Florida.
Will schools in impoverished communities simply close when all families flee for better ones? Where will those families flee to? Will federal dollars also pay for the busing that will be required to transport all children to whichever schools their families select when school attendance boundaries are meaningless, regardless of the distance from their homes?
And finally, what if “the market” decides there’s no money to be made educating disabled children of any kind, as often physical/emotional/cognitive/neural disabilities require expensive specialized instruction or supplemental equipment, yet not all disabled children are born into wealthy families? Are we prepared to abandon millions of children simply because they have special needs of some kind, and are more costly to educate?
What Romney proposes is Darwinistic chaos — or, exactly what you might expect from a product of private schools and privilege that has insulated him from the daily life concerns of most Americans. Completely lost on him is the fact that more than 86% of Americans send their kids to the public school down the block and that the school is a central part of the community, a focus of civic life, like it or not an arbiter of home values, and a crucial place where children learn local and state history and American values of hard work and education as a means for good citizenship and upward mobility.