The Founding Fathers wanted the states to try new things, attempting to do things better, tweaking, even overhauling various programs, “little laboratories of democracy,” we were always taught. The Founders knew that the government had a duty to protect and govern the general health and welfare of its citizens and set that duty upon the states, which is why States have Constitutions with thirty-something articles, while the federal Constitution has eight. (It is also why FDR had to threaten to pack the Court to get his “New Deal” through, it was the first real attempt at federal relief).
A crucial element in protecting the general health and welfare of the citizenry was public education, a state function one could count upon wherever one lived. Even the poorest states had good teachers, even good schools, one just had to find them. But a new Alabama bill, “The Parent’s Choice Act” has made it out of committee and threatens to upend all of it and we’re not just talking about “charter schools,” we are talking about another run at segregation, which is bad enough with white flight.
From Bill Greene’s Curmugecation Blog:
Even if Alabama households are given money for schooling, retired teacher Peter Greene argued Wednesday in a post on his Curmudgucation blog, the egalitarian ideals that have animated public education would be thrown to the wayside in favor of a libertarian fantasy destined to exacerbate inequality.
Marsh (R-12)—whom Greene described as “a longtime champion of disinvestment in Alabama public ed, having pushed charters and charter expansion in previous years”—has called S.B. 140 the “ultimate” school choice bill. Just one day after it was filed, the legislation advanced from the Senate Education Policy Committee on Wednesday by a margin of five to three, with two abstentions.
As Greene explained, the bill would create an Education Savings Account (ESA) “in its fully realized form—every Alabama family gets every cent the state would have spent on educating their child (about $6,300 last year) and they can use it to pay for educational whatever—public school, home school, private school, tutoring, online classes, whatever.”
What is a “public school” when you’re paying to send your child there? One run by the state? Why would the state even build or offer a school? The money is there for other schools to pick up.
One can easily see how this plays out. A private school opens that offers an education for $5,000 a year, allowing the family to pocket the extra $1300, only to later find out – too late, perhaps three years later – that the promises made were not kept, the education and facilities were all designed with the idea that they would make $2500 in profit each year off each child and – if in four years the school fails, the people who ran the school walk away with the millions made in the attempt, maybe the plan all along. The families lose four years they will never get back.
Meanwhile, down the highway fifteen miles, in the fabulously rich exurb that already has an over-funded (relative to other schools) high school opens a “City school” out of what used to be the public high school. The “city school” costs $7300, or just an extra thousand or two, it will still have the diving and archery team it always had (because there had already been plenty of inequality), still have the best debate team and dance team, but it will charge just enough to ensure that only the “right” public school type of kids attend and – even more important, be a magnate to the type of people that city wants paying property taxes.
Modern segregation and the demise of what had – in comparison – been an egalitarian system. The bill has made it out of committee and is now going to the full legislature with all the MAGA pressure that goes with it. Whether it survives the courts or not is an entirely different matter, there are both state constitutional and federal Civil Rights Act questions that will have to be tested in both state and federal court.
The little laboratories press on, ever experimenting. But unlike what the Founders assumed, each lab seeks a different end product and a different definition of “success.”
Jason Miciak is a political writer, features writer, author, and attorney. He is originally from Canada but grew up in the Pacific Northwest as a dual Canadian-American citizen, which he grows increasingly thankful for every day. He now enjoys life as a single dad, writing from the beaches of the Gulf Coast, getting advice from his beloved daughter and teammate. He is very much the dreamy mystic that cannot add and loves dogs more than most people. He also likes studying cooking, theoretical physics, cosmology, and quantum mechanics. He likes pizza.
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