Over fifty years removed from Brown vs. Board of Education, most Americans would rightly be shocked to know that our schools are still heavily segregated. This segregation, however, is largely geographic, separating families with money from those of modest means. Such segregation, while not intentionally racial, has nearly the same effect: the majority of high school students that drop out of failing schools are minority children. For this reason, I am completely convinced that educational freedom is the most pressing civil rights issue of our time. Brown vs. Board of Education racially desegregated schools in 1954, and now we need school choice to desegregate schoolchildren from failing and thriving schools.
In statistics compiled back in 2008, it was discovered that there are 1,700 “drop-out factory” schools in the United States, wherein over 60% of students do not graduate high school. The majority of these students who do not receive a high school diploma are African American and Latino. These statistics are as sad as they are unacceptable; the educational establishment that opposes education freedom for all families is creating a permanent underclass by denying entire communities of children the opportunity to obtain a quality education.
Heavily funded special interests like the National Education Association (NEA) and their South Carolina affiliate, the SCEA, are more interested in protecting union members’ perks than protecting students’ educational future. After decades of subpar performance nationally, and abysmal performance here in South Carolina, the NEA is calling for more funding for public education, less accountability for school administrators and restrictions on choice for students and their families. They paint any attempt to end geographic and quality segregation as being against public education, when all we who advocate choice are trying to achieve is a well-educated public. School choice legislation here in South Carolina would not harm public schools, or I wouldn’t support it.
I grew up in great public schools in Spartanburg County District 1, and have great respect and admiration for the faculty and staff in the district; however, thousands of South Carolina students are not so fortunate and do not have the opportunity to attend strong public schools. Even worse, the SCEA and their national allies have introduced liberal curriculum standards into our state schools, effectively teaching students values their parents wouldn’t on their own. For the sake of quality public education, we must allow dollars to follow the students, even if that means to private schools or home schooling cooperatives. Even under such a plan, however, the general fund state contribution to South Carolina schools would not be lessened, and per pupil funding would remain unaltered.
The goal of school choice isn’t to choke out public schools; it is to break the stranglehold the NEA, the SCEA and their union allies have on our public schools.
The goal of school choice is to ensure that every child of every race and creed has the opportunity to realize his or her full potential in an educational environment that is respectful of individual needs and the values that build strong character.
It is time that educational freedom became a reality in our state. For far too long, special interests have used our students as pawns in a political battle for their own bottom line. If we are to truly achieve integration and inclusion in education, while ensuring that America retains a thriving and growing middle class, we must reestablish the ladders of education that can lift families to new economic heights.
Nothing less than American Exceptionalism is on the line in the battle over education, and we must side with our children, not with unions that exploit them for their own purposes.