By Christian Barnard
The public education system doesn’t look like it did two decades ago. In addition to dealing with ambitious and failed federal accountability programs such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core, schools have also had to weather financial storms wrought by shrinking student populations and unstable revenues following the Great Recession. In the eyes of some who defend the public education system, the significant expansion of school choice programs over this period have only made pressures worse. Some, like former assistant education secretary Diane Ravitch and teachers’ union leader Randi Weingarten, argue that both private and public school choice contributes to financial strain on districts, while charter and private schools get to shirk top-down accountability and play by different rules.
They’re not completely wrong, of course—because playing by different rules and disrupting the status quo is kind of the point.
Since the adoption of the first charter school laws and private school voucher programs in the 1990s, choice programs have grown substantially, with more than 1.4 million students currently using publicly funded private school scholarships and more than 3 million enrolled in charter schools. Moreover, dozens of states have adopted policies requiring public schools to accept students from other neighborhoods. Education Next finds that nearly one in four public school families are now exercising public school choice. Some states with robust choice programs, like Arizona, have attendance zones where nearly 50 percent of their students don’t attend their residentially assigned schools. Unsurprisingly, this growth in options has added to the challenges the traditional public school system is facing.
Because states generally fund districts based on enrollment, a district that loses students loses cash. But scaling down operations to avoid going into debt as students move isn’t an easy thing for districts to do. School districts are built to grow, not shrink. Laying off staff and even halting hiring are huge political challenges all their own. Add to that the impossible politics of having to close and sell school buildings, change bus routes, and divert classroom resources toward paying off debt, and it becomes clear why many districts that face declining enrollment are going bankrupt.
But choice programs are very rarely the major reason for district financial pressures and declining enrollment.
Many other factors are in play. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 19 states are projected to see overall declines in student-age populations for reasons that include low fertility rates and families leaving to pursue better economic opportunities elsewhere. And in large districts like Detroit Community Schools, thousands of resident students are attending school in other districts—not just charters or privates. Districts also don’t help themselves
Via:: American Conservative
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