School Choice and Segregation: Fact and Fiction

A new study shows that public schools are highly segregated, while polls reveal that educational freedom is more popular than ever.

According to a study released in mid-May by The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, “one in six students attend a school where over 90% of their peers were of the same race in the 2018-19 school year.” The publication of the report was timed to mark the 68th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision which ruled that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional.

While this may be news to some, the results are hardly surprising. For varied reasons, people tend to live in areas populated by those similar in race and class. And to complete the picture, we have a ridiculous zip-code mandated education system, which, courtesy of the Big Government-Big Teacher Union duopoly, forces children to go to the public school that is closest to their home – no matter how awful it might be – throughout most of the country.

Then, on the educational freedom front, a RealClear Opinion Research poll in February revealed that 72% of the respondents support school choice, with just 18% opposed. The results don’t vary much by race, with 77% of Hispanics, 72% of Whites, 70% of Blacks, and 66% of Asians expressing support.

In March, the American Federation of Children released the findings of a survey which shows that 77% of those surveyed support education-savings accounts (ESAs), which allow parents to withdraw their children from public schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted but multiple uses. Interestingly, the poll finds that 75% of Democrats support ESAs, as do 85% of Hispanic voters and 84% of Black voters.

And unsurprisingly, when any privatization measure shows promise, the teacher unionistas and their fellow travelers step up their deceitful propaganda campaign. Traditionally, their argument has revolved around money. The unions claim that “privatization siphons funds from public schools.” This is a terrible argument for so many reasons, but mostly because we should be funding students, not systems. The union’s other main talking point – used increasingly these days – is that school choice is racist.

The ever-quotable Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, insists, “Make no mistake: This use of privatization, coupled with disinvestment are only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.” (A question for Weingarten and other choice-haters: While you despise any public money going to a parent who wants to send their child to a private school, you praise Pell Grants. These federal dollars go to needy college students, and can be used to attend private colleges, including religious schools like Notre Dame and Brigham Young. But on the k-12 level, giving parents choices – vouchers, ESA’s, etc., especially if used at a religious school – is your worst nightmare. Why is the private option perfectly okay for college students, but not elementary and high schoolers?)

The rarely coherent teacher union mouthpiece Diane Ravitch blogged in early May that the “origins of school choice are well-known; resistance to the Brown decision.” She blathers on, referring to libertarian Milton Friedman as a “right-winger,” and asserts that “Republicans are dedicated to destroying public schools, and stealing their funding.” Then doubling up on her wackiness, she exits with, “My addendum: if they destroy our public schools, they will destroy public libraries, public lands, the right to vote and, in time, our democracy.”

The National Education Association, the biggest union in the country, is a pit-bull on the issue. It regularly slams any privatization measure. In an extended piece on their website, the union trots out all the usual bromides – including that choice will lead to resegregation.

Homeschooling is also in the crosshairs of the purveyors of the segregation myth. In May, MSNBC got into the act, sharing a tweet claiming that homeschooling is being driven by “the insidious racism of the American religious right.”  

And now for some facts.

Regarding the siphon argument, Martin Lueken, Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis at EdChoice, researched the actual school choice participation rates and found that it “does not have a negative effect on public-school systems or their funding. In fact, research suggests that greater take-up in choice programs leads to better student outcomes for the vast majority of students choosing to remain in public schools. Looking at these facts, it seems clear that the claims of exodus and harm caused by choice programs are greatly exaggerated.”

Another analysis examined 11 choice programs across eight states and D.C. Of the 26 studies examining the effects of these programs on public school students, 24 reveal positive effects, one study shows no visible effect, and only one finds negative effects.

Concerning segregation, 10 empirical studies have examined private school choice programs, and nine find that the programs reduce it, while one shows no visible difference. Not one revealed that choice leads to any racial discrimination whatsoever.

Despite the ridiculous homeschooling assertion made by MSNBC, the number of Black homeschoolers jumped, from 3.3% to 16.1% in 2020. Thus, Black children are homeschooling in much greater numbers than their White counterparts.

The Milton Friedman allegation is miles beyond inaccurate. In fact, Friedman and likeminded souls began touting vouchers as a strategy to combat segregation. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, researcher Phillip Magness explains that Virginia’s segregationist hard-liners recognized the likely outcomes of school choice and began attacking it “as an existential threat to their white-supremacist order.”

So, now just who are really the racists? The ones who want to free Blacks to choose their schools? Or those who force them to go to their frequently failing zip-code mandated school?

Going forward, school choice should be branded as a civil rights issue. Lt. Col Allen West said it best in a recent opinion piece.

“We must reassert educational freedom and parental choice in America, this is the new civil rights battlefield. My very own parents made the decision about my early education realizing that a good quality education unlocks the doors to equality of opportunity. If we continue down this current path we lessen the opportunities for our children, but we increase the ability for others to determine their outcomes. If taxpayers, parents, are the ones funding public education, then they are the investors and have a definitive interest in their return on investment.”

Amen, brother West!

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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