False Choices: School Choice Doesn’t–and Shouldn’t–Mean Vouchers


I spent a good deal of my day Wednesday after the election explaining and defending my support for the newly elected Los Angeles Unified School District board members, Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin. I was frustrated by the unbridled lack of understanding as to what school choice is, the fact that people don’t really know the difference between a charter school and a private school and the false narrative that being pro-charter equals being pro-Betsy Devos/Donald Trump.

The questions asked of me were things like, “How can you support these candidates, they want to privatize education and do away with public education?” One person said all charter schools segregate. Another said charter schools don’t accept kids with special needs. And another went on about how money was being siphoned away from traditional schools. I was left shaking my head.

I have been a middle-school classroom teacher for eight years, a card carrying member of the California Teachers Association, an education specialist for a state legislature, an education consultant, a school board member in a district of 45,000 students, a special education/student advocate, an English-learner facilitator, an after-school program director and curriculum developer, and an education policy advisor.

I’ve also raised five kids and am now helping raise two more. I have at one time or another utilized all of my options as a parent. I have used tuition-based private schools, public schools and public charter schools. I feel confident that I know my way around education. I understand every aspect, and I have worked mostly outside of my own community so I have been exposed to schools across the state. I know what the differences are in all of these schools. No one is going to convince me I don’t.

Similarly, I will not be convinced that supporting public school choice is a bad thing and that I should be ashamed to support candidates that take money from millionaires. The only reason so much money is needed to win a school board race is because teacher unions put so much of their money into supporting their own handpicked candidates.

I know this because I have run for school board and been elected, in the face of huge amounts of money from the teacher union in my district. It’s then that I came to realize that more often than not, district-level union leadership does not have the best interest of our kids at heart. The fact is, it’s their role and mission not to. The role of the union is protect and fight for the teacher, even if that means kids suffer in the process.

So, it’s a bit of stinger when you decide to run for office because you care so much about kids and student achievement but then are demonized by the union for not making the adults your first priority. I can state this as truth and still say that I wholeheartedly support teachers and teacher unions–yet am highly critical of some of the tactics of union leadership. Regardless, we are still all on the same team: Team Public Education.

I have also been frustrated because I don’t understand why more people are not outraged that their tax dollars support hundreds of schools throughout California that are chronically low performing. Why does a segment of our society accept that our kids of color and those from low socio-economic backgrounds be condemned to these failure mills? Where is the outrage that teacher unions have negotiated for themselves unsustainable pensions that could soon render many districts insolvent?

So, that’s what my day was like Wednesday. Then I read this.

The above linked story from the Washington Post yesterday says that the Trump Administration released its education budget. Can’t wait, right? It’s bad, and it’s confusing. The proposal talks about school choice and charter school expansion and vouchers…oh my!  But wait–I just got done telling people that education reformers aren’t about all that. (Bangs head on desk).

The budget proposal includes plans to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives. The article states, “The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice. It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies.”

You notice the words in bold? Vouchers, religious schools and private schools. These are not PUBLIC schools, this would be PRIVATIZATION. Progressive-minded people in the education movement do not support privatization because we believe in a firm separation between church and state.

Public charter schools are not private, religious institutions. When Trump and Devos say “school choice,” they mean something very different than the school choice I support. I do not support privatization. I support public schools and making our schools better for all kids.  Sometimes that will mean a public charter school, sometimes it will mean a neighborhood traditional school, or an improved magnet school, but it will always mean a public school.

It will never mean that I want a voucher from the public trust to fund a private education. While it is true that it’s a “school choice,” the Trump plan is really about funneling money to religious and private schools. I do not support giving these schools public dollars.

Hey, if you want to send your kid to one of these, please do! I went to parochial school. My kids all went to parochial schools, it was great. We paid tuition because we opted out of the public system. It would be a travesty and probably unconstitutional for the federal government to give public dollars to parents to pay for these religious schools. If this is your choice, then you pay for it.

We as teachers, students, parents, unions and education leaders all need to find common ground and unite to fight this looming educational disaster because here’s what Trump and Company really want to do:

The cuts would make space for investments in choice, including $500 million for charter schools, up 50 percent over current funding. The administration also wants to spend $250 million on ‘Education Innovation and Research Grants,’ which would pay for expanding and studying the impacts of vouchers for private and religious schools. It’s not clear how much would be spent on research versus on the vouchers themselves.”  

In other words, they want to take money from other educational programs that help mostly minority and poor children to research how they can steal public funds for a voucher program that would benefit private and religious schools.

It’s important to note that currently there is one federally funded voucher program in the nation. Washington, D.C. schools have a voucher program. But a recent report on the validity of the program found that after one year in a private school, students performed worse on standardized tests than their counterparts who remained in the public schools.

Don’t be fooled by Trump’s and DeVos’s fast-talking, double-speaking con on public education and choice. There is a difference. We can’t support this agenda. We must support public schools, whether they are public charters or part of a traditional district! Keep in mind that Trump has been, in his short one hundred and some odd days in office, the most destructive force ever to hit the White House! His goal is clearly to dismantle institutions, including education. We must stop him!

We need to fight this together. We have the same agenda. Save and improve public schools.


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Leticia Chavez-Garcia

Leticia Chavez-Garcia

Leticia Chavez-Garcia is a Mother, Grandmother, former Middle School Teacher, former Member of a School Board of Education and an Education Advocate for hundreds of parents and students in the Inland Empire. Having become a mother at 15, Leticia knows what it’s like to be a single mother trying to navigate the education system. Leticia received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Political Science and Public Administration from California Baptist University and a Masters’ Degree in Education Technology from Cal State Fullerton in her 30’s. Leticia has used her knowledge and experience to help hundreds of families as an Education Advocate in the Inland Empire and currently works as an Education Specialist.

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