School Choice – The Next Civil Rights Battle


Our public education system, by and large, is a failure.

And although many pine for the days when it used to be great, it actually never really was that great. In the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s, public schools only needed to churn out average students, most of whom would go on to work in manufacturing or other lines of work which only required a high school diploma.

Today, employers are having a difficult time filling jobs because too many Americans lack the skills and/or education needed to perform those jobs effectively.

We have more and more people going to college these days, but they are completely unprepared to do so. In New York City for example, nearly 80 percent of high school graduates who choose to attend CUNY (City University of New York) need to take remedial courses. That means they need more instruction in basic subjects such as English and Math, before they can even begin college coursework.

The public school system in this country is failing the children of America. The public school system basically has a monopoly on education, including what is taught and the method of teaching. And the power of that system has been enhanced in large part due to the steely grip of teachers unions and the politicians who do their bidding. The only “reform” they are interested in is one that provides an ever increasing amount of taxpayer dollars.

As it stands now, unless parents have the money to send their children to private schools or the time (and often, money) to homeschool their kids, they are forced to send their children to schools that completely lack accountability. And they don’t need to be accountable because they’re the only game in town. The teachers unions know it and so do the politicians.

There is one solution that, at the very least, offers a way for many disadvantaged students to get a better shot at a proper education.

That is school choice.

School choice is the next civil rights battle in this country. If the GOP wants an issue that transcends race and is popular with large majorities of Americans, this is where they should stake their ground.

But it will be a hard-fought issue. Politicians (largely Democrats) will parrot whatever the powerful teachers unions spout. The teachers unions have an agenda that has nothing to do with “the children.” Their agenda is all about collective bargaining and power. And they will do whatever they can to maintain it, even if it comes at the expense of kids and their scholastic achievement.

In fact, recently, the anti-choice forces took their battle all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court.

School choice won.

The worst part is that most critics of school choice are people who have the means to send their kids to the best schools available to them. Yet they refuse to empower other parents to do the same for their children.

For years, critics have attempted to thwart school choice programs by using arguments such as:

1. Giving vouchers to students to attend private and parochial schools “takes money from public schools.”
- Wrong. Instead, it fosters competition and elevates academic standards. As kids attend better schools, public schools no longer have their monopoly on curriculums and standards, and they are forced to be competitive. There is zero evidence that public schools have been harmed financially as a result of school choice.

2. Kids in school choice programs do no better academically once they attend different schools.
- False. There have been a number of recent studies that have shown it absolutely has benefitted students (see here, here, and here).

3. Vouchers are unconstitutional because the money winds up going to parochial schools violating the “establishment clause.”
- Untrue. The Indiana Supreme Court decision dealt that argument a serious blow, as well as other such challenges.

The Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice (note: Milton Friedman conceived the idea of school choice) has a great study that everybody should read. Here are some key findings:

  • Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 found that choice improves student outcomes. Six showed that all students benefit, while five concluded that some benefit and some are not affected. One study found no visible impact. No empirical study found a negative impact.
  • Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 found that choice improves public schools and one found no visible impact. No empirical study found that choice harms public schools.
  • Six empirical studies examined school choice’s fiscal impact on taxpayers. All six found that school choice saves money for taxpayers. No empirical study found a negative fiscal impact.
  • Eight empirical studies examined school choice and racial segregation in schools. Of these, seven found that school choice moves students from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. One found no net effect on segregation from school choice. No empirical study found that choice increases racial segregation.
  • Seven empirical studies examined school choice’s impact on civic values and practices, such as respect for the rights of others and civic knowledge. Of these, five found that school choice improves civic values and practices. Two found no visible impact from school choice. No empirical study found that school choice has a negative impact on civic values and practices.

Despite the plethora of data, it will not stop the anti-choice forces from trying to defeat school choice. And for proponents of school choice, the opportunity to counter the opposition is there for the taking. The best part is, people support school choice. The polls do not lie. More than 70% of Latino’s support school choice in some form. African-American support is not as high, but opposition is very low.

The battle lines have been drawn. This is in issue that should be fought at all levels of government.

Are you in?

By day, Jay is a supply chain analyst for a company in the Atlanta area. He lives in Canton, GA with his wife Sylvia, their two teenagers, Michael and Ally and their idiotic dog, Lucky. Jay has been following politics closely since 1992 when he was a moderate Democrat. It was Bill Clinton’s lie about a middle class tax cut that pushed Jay over the edge to conservatism and celebrated when the GOP gained control of Congress entirely in November 1994. Jay also loves photography. You can see that work at Caruso Photography.


  1. Okie said:

    It’s ironic, Democrats scream “We have a choice” when it comes to the decision to allow a life to proceed (abortion) but “Choice? No way!” when it comes to the decision on how that life proceeds. (Education, nutrition, lifestyle)

    I’m not sure there is an argument against choice of schools that makes any logical sense at all. The one I hear the most is, “it’s just about money and schools will just pass kids through.” Ok, one could slightly see that possibility, maybe, but when you then back a public school system that says ‘everyone gets an E for effort, even without effort’ one begins to wonder if public schools didn’t fail you, too.

    The other is “You hate poor kids and want them to fail”…. I simply reply, does that mean you hate and want ALL kids to fail…. Heads explode soon after…

    There is only one reason to oppose choice of the individual, if it harms others… Parents choosing where their kids go to school, without having to pay for both public and private schools, does harm to no one. In fact, it actually helps the child, because the parents making the choice are actually parenting and participating in their child’s well being.

    Thank you for all the stats. I will be using them. Appreciate you and hope your day is great. ✌

    • Jay Caruso said:

      Thanks for the comment! I wrestled with whether or not to use the term “anti-choice” but decided to do it because their language should be thrown back at them.

  2. Dave said:

    Great post and links. And Okie’s point about the Left’s “inconsistency” on choice is great, and sadly true. It seems their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

    My two kids are in high school presently, in a nice little community in central North Carolina. We’ve seen good teachers and bad teachers. And that’s just a reflection of skill, not of them as people in any way. Some of the less effective teachers are fantastic people that I’d thoroughly enjoy in a social setting. But there is no doubt that the mandates at the state and federal level are contributing to the current situation, as much as the skewed objectives of the unions and their political puppets.

    I’m not surpised by the polling at all. And school choice has made some inroads. It seems the time is ripe for a full court press on the issue, and it’s clearly a spot where GOP leadership would pay dividends, both to the citizenry, and to the party. Does such leadership even exist?

    • Jay Caruso said:

      Well that is another problem. Whenever somebody proposes reform, they immediately frame it as, “Oh you’re just attacking teachers!”

      The teachers themselves have grown tired of how the system is run. They have almost no control and spend far too much time preparing kids for tests than they do teaching.

  3. Lawful Plunder said:

    Good piece…this is an important issue. I think the GOP has been less than enthusiastic about school choice because their constituents have been less than enthusiastic. Many of them chose to live in a particular area because of the school system…because their wanted to city schools and the kinds of kids that go to them. They like that their local public school has “exclusive-like” qualities, and their not crazy about that changing. So, while I agree with you on the merits and the politics of the issue, the resistance is real, and it’s not just on the DEM side.

    The other point I would make is that school choice isn’t (and shouldn’t be sold as) a panacea. The biggest education problem facing inner-city kids isn’t the public school system, it’s the fact that they come from dysfunctional homes/neighborhoods where parents are absent and/or don’t value education. Unless that changes, not much progress will be made irrespective of where they go to school.

  4. Mike said:

    Ever notice how “liberals” are “pro-choice,” but NEVER when it comes to school choice? I think this is an issue that will resonate with all parents in all parts of the country and the GOP MUST pounce on it.

  5. Rich Brown said:

    Excellent piece and even better focus and point!
    Here is an article I submitted – to be published in my city’s Human Resources Association monthly newsletter:

    Why HR should engage in education and training like our companies depend on it
    By Rich Brown
    April 11, 2013
    Nearly every seminar on human resources talks about the need for HR professionals to understand and contribute to the bottom line. We are told we must plan and develop the people our organizations require in order to succeed in the future. Yet, we are experiencing a critical erosion of talent that threatens the core of our business models, as well as our nation’s economic stability – and we are doing far too little about that.
    Central Ohio is now like a donut – with many high performing suburban schools surrounding a Columbus Public School District, the largest in the state, now embroiled in a scandal that we know includes attendance record falsification by numerous school personnel to eliminate low performing students. Ohio Auditor Dave Yost is actively investigating this and other possible grade changing efforts that boost scores and potentially create bonuses for those fixing the records to enhance their performance records. Columbus schools also are under investigation for contract bid rigging.
    At the same time, the state’s largest school district, which means the largest producer of future talent for our companies and organizations, had a 72.7% graduation rate in 2012. This is likely to be lowered, as are all test scores, once the false data is corrected. Also important to note, 58.1% of Columbus School District students are black, and 83.3% are “economically disadvantaged.” There is no correlation of intelligence by race or financial category tied to potential.
    In Atlanta, 34 school officials are now under indictment for similar cheating efforts that directly resulted in bonuses . The Atlanta district’s superintendent faces racketeering charges and could receive 40 years in prison. El Paso Texas’ school system in October saw it’s superintendent convicted for similar test score fixing and received extensive prison time. Atlanta’s graduation rate barely exceeds 50%.
    So – what is the point?
    Few are talking about the kids. The families. And – for our future workforce.
    The Columbus City Schools in the 2010 – 2011(Latest year available) spent $14,967 per student. My home school district, Dublin spent $13,103 per pupil. Dublin met 26 of 26 “indicators.” Columbus 4. Dublin graduated 98.2%. Columbus’ poor proficiency reports are more than perplexing, even at their less than sterling current reported level based on a 72.7% graduation rate. Here are the rates:
    Columbus Dublin State Average
    Reading 89.5% 99.3% 94.6%
    Writing 90.2% 99.4% 94.6%
    Math 84% 99.1% 92.5%
    Science 78% 98.9% 90%
    Social Studies 86% 99.2% 92.5%
    How can a district post graduation rates far lower than their proficiency levels? Perhaps because the data is not reflective of the performance of the district. And again – this hurts the kids. The families. Not the adults in the system, who actually stand to benefit from enhanced reports via bonus and funding structures tagged to scores.
    In the meantime, the nation’s labor force participation rate is at a generational low of 63.3%. Yet, SHRM reports that in manufacturing that high skilled manufacturing talent, engineers and scientists top the list of critical areas of talent shortage. The United States in no longer effectively matching education to need. And we, as HR professionals, will bear the responsibility for finding talent that we no longer have available domestically. We are not matching education & vocational training to match to jobs of critical need and for the student, future economic stability.
    Deloitte’s 2012 workforce study reported that 67% of respondents reporting a moderate to severe shortage of available, qualified workers and 56% anticipating the shortage to grow worse in the next three to five years. In addition, our survey indicates that 5% of current jobs at respondent manufacturers are unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates.
    Manpower Group reported that 49% of U.S. employers are having difficulty filling jobs, and 55% cited a lack of available talent or no applicants. H1B Visa applications opened up April 1. By April 5, the 85,000 available visa’s had 115,000 accepted applications. There will be a lottery for these highly skilled and educated workers, 30,000 of which will not be denied a visa to fill a critical role our economy and companies need. Our schools are not filling this gap today. Not even close.
    Yet – we are spending more per student than any other nation in the world, and in Columbus more than the national average, or even the Central Ohio average, while getting results that truly doom a large number of a new generation to poverty. Numerous officials charged with the job of educating Columbus’ children are facing likely felony indictments by acting in a manner that directly harms kids while making themselves look better and earn more. Is anyone looking out for the kids? Are we? If we can not even rely on reported data from schools, how can we react to fix problems hidden and in doing so improve the schools?
    Perhaps it should be us – the Central Ohio Human Resources Community. We have a voice and influence. And if we do not use our power to improve the situation, there are no diversity programs or reactive initiative that can put this scrambled mess back together again after the egg is cooked. Once educated, the path is largely set.
    There are many ways to impact the system. Many call “School Choice” the civil rights issue of our generation. Others view this as an attack on the financial stability of the public system. Both are correct. But if the public system is failing, must not it be attacked and reformed to give desperate parents options? In Chicago, which graduates only 60% of its mostly black students and offers the 2nd highest teacher pay in the nation, two-thirds of charter schools outperform their public peers in high school testing. Two-thirds of Chicago parents support choice. And charters there spend 22% less per student than Chicago City Schools. In 2012 there was a waiting list of over 19,000 students trying to get in to charter schools, whose number are limited, and use of public school building not used by the city by charters is fully opposed by the teacher’s union, which amazingly also opposes closing 54 under-utilized schools to save the district $43 million next year. Chicago’s schools face a $1 billion budget gap in 2013-2014, yet increases teacher salaries 16% over four years.
    In Columbus, we face many of these same issues. Yet we tolerate truly horrible performance and even criminal performance with very little outrage. There are fabulous teachers and administrators in the system, which we must acknowledge and support. But we cannot even fire the worst.
    HR professionals must get involved and fight this fight to demand better. If we do not, our cities youth will never be the workers we need for future organizational success. This is a racial / diversity issue we cannot ignore. Unless we prepare the economically disadvantaged, which is disproportionately represented by blacks and Hispanics, inclusion will by necessity mean hiring of ill-prepared workers. To provide the bottom line mentality HR is told we must have, we cannot make bad hires, no matter how well intended. Perhaps equally importantly, how can we as a profession, claim to be leading proponents of diversity and inclusion and not be on the front lines demanding and forcing better results from our school systems for the nation’s minorities and poor?
    How bad is it in our great country? In New York Cities “Specialized High Schools,” where performance is excellent, the testing system (No racial quotas are used) to qualify students for the 2013-2104 school year awarded 9 spots to blacks, 24 to Latinos, 177 to whites and 620 to Asian-Americans. Again – there is not statistically relevant IQ difference in these groups. The US must do better.
    Rich Brown is president of Compass Tech International, a Dublin based technical recruiting, staffing and consulting firm, and a HRACO member.

  6. Cameron said:

    It’s an important issue, and a potentially winning one, but will require good PR. It’s susceptible to a “funneling public money to private rich people” attack.

  7. sqeptiq said:

    What I must always oppose, even if it’s constitutionally permissible, is tax funding of religious institutions. I have no such objection in the case of secular charter schools.

    Also, it’s nice to see a righty affirm that education is a right.

    • Jay Caruso said:

      But it’s not direct funding of religious institutions. It’s no different than a federal worker, who is paid with tax dollars, using his salary to send his own kids to a parochial school.

  8. Oliver Willis said:

    Actually the Obama admin and Arne Duncan are more in line with school choice type reform than previous administrations of either party, but you guys tend to be too busy calling them socialists to notice.

      • Oliver Willis said:

        The DC program is crap. look at the stuff Duncan has done w race to the top, etc. Dem labor not huge fans. But why ally with Dems, then people would think you guys actually want to fix this problem! :)

        • Rich Brown said:

          If the political class of either party actually gave a damn, the focus would be on the kids and outcomes – demanding accountability for every dollar invested in schools and of every admin and teacher allowed to work on the tax payer’s dime. The greater hypocrisy is certainly among Progressives who non-stop espouse their compassion and focus on the under-priviledged, while actively working to oppose reforms and accountability to ensure that those kids and parents who want to learn are in schools capable of preparing them for success in life.

    • Rich Brown said:

      Oliver – While it appeared you were right on Obama being an advocate of school choice by his early statements, his actions are what matters. His focus on education and meaningful reform is pathetic. That statement has nothing to do with “Socialist.” If he is a “socialist” and an effective national leader, this nation would hardly care. The inner cities and minority communities are not being well served by the tenure of President Obama. Schools are not in any way better. Choice is not improved. Literacy rates and graduations rates and all metrics are not better. They are worsening, dooming another generation of American poor to dependency on govt. as they can not as a group hope to enter the mainstream once education failure occurs. For a socialist, that failure actually would lock in a class of supports. And therein lies the strange scenario of a President, like with the sequester dire predictions, being positioned to gain politically by pain being exerted on the people.

  9. DrkLrdBill said:

    I think that “school choice” will actually lead to “school destruction” and it will destroy the public school system in America. Instead of taking away money from public schools, why don’t we figure out why the system isn’t working and reform it from the inside? It’s obvious that districts and schools are segregated by income, so one simple idea I just thought of: take a percentage of school levy taxes collected from each district and put it in an emergency fund. That way, if one school or district is underperforming and desperately needs cash, the emergency fund can keep it afloat. If all the schools are functioning at acceptable levels, then the emergency money is returned to the original school districts.

    But, I agree with the mouse man Sqeptiq that government money should not go towards religious schools. I’m willing to take it one step further and say that all government money shouldn’t go to ANY private schools, even colleges. This is probably one of the best aspects of Hillsdale College, where they accept no state or federal aid.

    I was raised a good little Christian neocon in the public schools all around the country as an Army brat, ended up in Ohio for 6th-12th grades, did very well, and then became a liberal while attending the great PRIVATE Washington University in St. Louis.

    So, maybe I might be totally wrong, and school choice is a good thing, as more poor and middle-class conservatives attending private schools will eventually realize they are voting against their own interests and become progressive!

  10. Jay Caruso said:

    “and it will destroy the public school system in America.”

    And? I don’t think this is a bad thing. The public school system overall is a POS and maybe it should be done away with. Sorry change has to happen. The public school system have kids and parents in a perpetual headlock and all we ever hear is, “Why don’t we repair what we have?” That’s been tried and the teachers unions stand opposed to almost any reforms that don’t protect their interests.

    And if money can’t go towards any kind of private school, then WTF good is school choice?

    The public school system is dead.

    It’s time to bury it.

    • DrkLrdBill said:

      If money goes towards private schools, why are they still private? If public schools need to be disbanded, as you claim, then private schools and charter schools would just become the new “public” schools and would lose the advantages they have of being private. The cycle would then repeat as new private schools show up that refuse federal and state funding.

  11. Mark said:

    Money doesn’t fix public schools. A simple google search will yield more than enough studies on that. Want to raise scores? Get rid of the not-as-academically enclined ones. If a student can’t cut the mustard by, say, 10th grade, send them to vocational school.

    Set the bar low. Real low. 1.5/4.0 low.

    We don’t need more low caliber liberal college students going into extreme debt. We need more plumbers, electritians, carpenters, and masons. There is DIGNITY in that work. Give these kids who can’t flippin’ read a way to earn a living and be proud of themselves. At any rate, a trade is a better option than suckling up to Big Sis’s teet following a monumental wast of taxpayer money.

    What does it take to fix a single public school? About 400 sets of parents that gives a damn.