Saturday, August 4, 2018

Primary Elections Confirm Tennessee’s Bi-Partisan Support for school choice

by Rod Williams, Aug. 4, 2018- There are times when finally a consensus forms on an issue and it becomes settled.  Such seems to be the case with school choice. Not that there is still not disagreements about how much school choice and how fast it should be implemented and not that there is still not phony arguments made that charter schools drain money from district schools. However, on the basic question of if there should be school choice, school choice has won.

Tennessee Federation for Children PAC, a pro-school choice political action committee put out a press release today noting that advocates of school choice prevailed across geographical areas and political parties in this weeks election.  Jesse Chism, a Democrat supportive of school choice won the crowded Democratic primary in House District 85. 

In District 23 in the Republican primary Mark Cochran, an advocate of school chose, defeated Trey Winder who had the support of the National Education Association.  In other primaries in both parties, incumbents who support school choice beat back challengers. In the governor's race both Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Karl Dean support school choice. In our own school board races, no one was running as an avowed opponent of school choice. 

School choice was for many years a cause advocated by the libertarian right. Economist Milton Friedman was a voice crying in the wilderness advocating for school choice when no one was listening. Gradually, over time, school choice was tried and attracted advocates. Now, it is no longer identified as only a conservative cause and as many advocates can be found among liberals as conservatives. That is a positive development and means that the trend is not likely to be reversed when Democrats regain power. School choice is no longer an ideological position. The teachers unions are a powerful force in the Democrat party, but they are out of touch and Democrat candidates have not allowed themselves to be dictated to by union interest.  The teachers unions have failed to stop the move toward school choice.

I would like to see ever greater school choice. I support charter schools, tax vouchers, and education savings accounts. I wold also like to see regular public schools become more like charter schools with more local school autonomy and competition between schools.  One is not required to go to the closest doctor or church or grocery store, why should children be assigned to a certain school?  In fact, in Nashville and many other places one no longer has to send their child to the district school. Every winter, Metro Schools have a School Choice Festival in which parents can learn of the options available and apply for admittance to schools other than their district school. That is good as far as it goes, but it should go further.

Those who believe in the benefits of competition and the morality of options should continue to advocate for greater school choice.  Allies in this fight may now come from liberals as well as conservatives. In some rural areas the major opponents of school choice may be from conservatives who simply oppose change.  In some urban areas, the leading advocates may be Black parents who are tired of having their kids forced to attend failing schools. School choice has opponents and proponents in both political parties, but it appears what school choice has been won is not likely to be lost and the prospects for more school choice looks good.

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