For four years, an administration has been in place that supports defunding public education and instead funneling money into a voucher system for “school choice.” Of these policies, led by Betsy DeVos, Trump has said, “All children have to have access to quality education. A child’s zip code in America should never determine their future, and that’s what was happening.”
The mindset here is that all children should have a choice — that if the neighborhood public school is “underperforming”, kids should have the option to select a different school, possibly out of their zip code, be that a public charter school or a private school.
This seems reasonable on its face, doesn’t it? Give families a choice in their kids’ education? The problem with this plan, though, is that the implementation of it siphons money directly from those underperforming neighborhood public schools. When a child leaves a struggling school, they take their money with them, in the form of the voucher. Because the money follows the child, schools are left financially worse off than before, thus harming the remaining students.
What Vouchers Really Mean
The reason people seek out charter schools is because their severely underfunded public schools are not meeting their needs. But there are many families who, even if they had a “choice,” would not be able to simply hop over to the fancy charter school or the private school on the other side of town. Many states do not require school districts to provide transportation to and from charter schools, and of those that do, the guidelines don’t necessarily apply to all students who may wish to attend that school. And private schools have no obligation to provide transportation.
This concept of “school choice” from DeVos and the Trump administration effectively talks out of both sides of its mouth: Make sure kids can get a good education at a nice charter school; but also, while doing that, strangle the local public schools that far more kids have no choice but to attend. It is an illusion of choice that further erodes our critically important public school system.
Biden’s Plan To Improve Public Education
Meanwhile, Biden’s plan aims to triple funding for Title I, the program that provides extra support to schools in communities that are struggling economically, and boost teacher pay. The point here is not to privatize schools and build a spotty network of high-achieving schools that only kids with the necessary family resources can attend. The point is to properly fund neighborhood schools so that every child can get a quality education without having to hop zip codes.
Charter schools are not without public support, especially among Black and Latino families. They do offer a choice, and families do deserve to have options. But we need to be asking ourselves why families feel compelled to demand to have this option to send their kids to a charter school in the first place. Invariably, the answer will be that their local public school is failing. This is the root of the problem that Biden’s plan aims to address. His plan is to cut funding to for-profit charter schools and to make funding for non-profit charter schools dependent upon performance. Again, the purpose of this is to ensure that funds are not syphoned away from the public schools that so badly need them.
As far as private schools go, a major problem with offering taxpayer money to fund a private school education is that private schools have no system of public accountability, especially when it comes to civil rights. Is a transgender child better off in an institution that has fancy facilities and a rigorous academic curriculum if that institution can label that child an abomination, refuse to allow them to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender, and deadnames and misgenders them? Is it okay for a school that engages in this behavior to suffer no consequences because their stance is based in a supposedly constitutionally protected religious belief?
Biden’s Plan For Reopening Schools
Biden also wants to safely reopen schools — a marked change from the “open or else” language prevalent of the Trump administration. Trump several times threatened he would cut funding for districts that didn’t fully open. Biden’s plan is to increase relief funding to public schools to help make opening as safe as possible, not just for the students, but for teachers and staff. Proper PPE, plexiglass dividers, additional teachers to ensure smaller class size, are all measures that require proper funding.
Too often, teachers are left out of the education conversation, or their concerns invalidated and tossed aside. Teachers’ unions have generally been opposed to in-person instruction, putting health and safety as a priority ahead of in-person learning. DeVos opposes teachers’ unions as a rule, and even said on Twitter, “When unions win, kids lose.” But our teachers should matter to us just as much our kids — after all, these are the people with whom we entrust our children every day.
Providing Stability For Families With Children
Biden also hopes to implement universal prekindergarten, provide free public college, and cancel a portion of student loan debt. Any of these goals would be hugely helpful to American families, especially middle and lower income families, but the ability to make them happen will depend very much on the balance in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Some of Biden’s other goals will be easier to implement, like providing guidance that allows for transgender students to choose which bathroom they use, protects the civil rights of Black children who are punished disproportionately in comparison to white children, and further diversifies public schools. All of these are Obama-era plans, and all of them were rolled back by Betsy DeVos. They are all guidance though, not law, and therefore will not require approval from Congress in order to be instituted.
The overarching theme of Biden’s plan is equity. Vouchers focus on the individual child, and as such don’t and can’t help every child. It’s the schools that matter. It’s the schools that need fixing. We need to stop shuffling children around and fix the schools that are already in their neighborhood. And Biden’s plan aims to do just that.