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Voices of support for school choice muddling traditional partisan faultlines

The school choice debate is unique in the often-dichotomous format of American policy discourse. State progressive legislators who have signed off on expansive immigration reform and greater labor protections sit side by side with state elected officials who decry unions as “godless” during school choice conventions.

Whereas most major policy issues are pivoted along non-negotiable ideological stakes, invoking commonplace free-market approaches to education is a tough sell to the many who view America’s premier global status as a result of unbridled public education. As Chad Aldis, Executive Director of School Choice Ohio, told The American Independent in an interview, “Our public schools over the last 100 years have distinguished the U.S. It’s an emotional issue because many associate schools with progress.”

On the other end, education observers with clear progressive bone fides like E.D. Kain aren’t willing to permit school choice become “synonymous with ‘corporate-reform.’” In the same post, Kain writes:

The educational diversity choice can create, leading to the emergence of arts schools and science schools, and opening up Montessori and Waldorf schools to lower income families, etc. are all positive pro-education moves as far as I’m concerned. Of course, there are problems with charters, with the potential for increased inequality, etc. but these are not insurmountable obstacles. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked or glossed over by advocates of school choice. And too often those same advocates take a pro-corporate view on education, deriding teachers and teachers unions instead of working with teachers and unions to create real, sustainable reform.

[…]

Real school choice, with real grass-roots, bottom-up reform means that a community of people who care about their public goods deeply want to work to make those goods better.

Stated differently, Betsy DeVos, chair of leading school choice organization American Federation for Children, said at a recent summit all options for school improvement should be on the table — “yes, even public schools” — that address a community’s frustration with poor performing education facilities.

The language of some school choice advocates seems to lend to an education-policy scene capable of entertaining private and public institutions. Aldis told The American Independent, “we’re getting into an area where it’ll be like a mixed economy–private and public schools that offer choice and mobility.”

The willingness of school choice advocates to eschew reform proposals that are monolithic in any direction makes the movement more in line with how economists explain America’s development. Bradford DeLong wrote so much in a 2010 book he co-authored with Stephen Cohen, The End of Influence, arguing this country’s economy soared due to government innovation and private firms learning to monetize the public sector’s discoveries. That mixed-market standard of building a national economy was so crucial to post-war American stability, the U.S. made it clear no Marshall Fund recipient in Europe could develop differently.

Like all public policy matters, education reform is delicate, nuanced and capable of uniting disparate voices. Where the voices of support are coming from are proving that much.

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