Category: Educational Choice

suspensionIn Dothan, Alabama, school officials are meeting to make changes to the Dothan City Schools suspension policies because of disparities between the rates of suspensions between black and white students. Across the American South, these suspension disparities are among the greatest. The terms for how students are punished are largely subjective, and this punishment increasingly falls harder on minority students compared to their white counterparts. An August 2015 report published by the University of Pennsylvania highlighted some of the disparities in punishment and brought to light some of the disproportionate impact these harsh discipline policies have on black students in the Southern states in particular.

The report found that across the country in one academic year there were 1.2 million black students suspended from K-12 schools. More than half of these suspensions occurred in Southern states (55 percent). Southern school districts also accounted for half of the expulsions of black students in the nation. Overall black students were punished at disproportionately high levels across Southern school districts. In 84 school districts black students accounted for 100 percent of all suspensions, and in 181 districts black students accounted for 100 percent of expulsions. Those numbers only represent the districts where all of the harsh discipline was entirely directed at black students — in hundreds of other districts punishment was directed towards black students 50 or 75 percent of the time.

Evangelicalism historically has always been embroiled in political and social movements in the West. Because of the effective reach church leaders have in reaching the masses in past history, politicians take particular interest in the church during political campaigns. Donald Trump’s new found interest in evangelicalism, then, makes historical sense. Winning over evangelicals could translate into votes. In fact, in the post-Nixon era evangelicals were very useful tools in the growth of the GOP as some Christian leaders unintentionally sold out the mission of the church to win a “culture war.”

In the wake of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, evangelical figures like Harold O. J. Brown, Francis Schaeffer, and C. Everett Koop, joined forces in the mid-1970s to call evangelicals to fight against the proliferation of abortion. Matthew Miller does a wonderful job of explaining how these men woke evangelicals up to an issue that Catholics were already fighting against.

In 1975, Brown and Koop launched The Christian Action Council which became the first major evangelical lobbying organization on Capitol Hill. In 1976, Francis Schaeffer’s film and lecture tour, How Shall We Then Live, served to awaken many evangelicals to the decline of Western culture on issues like abortion, materialism, secularism, the influence of evolution in public schools, the increasing coercion of government power, and so on.

Under the leadership of Brown, Schaeffer, and Koop, evangelicals officially launched their first offensive in the culture war as the pro-life movement recruited more crusaders. In the years that followed, the second generation of evangelical culture warriors were deployed. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, James Dobson, and so on, established a solid pro-life movement. These leaders would be key figures in the formation of The Moral Majority movement of the 1980s which enlisted Christians in the culture war for traditional family values, abortion, prayer in schools, among others.

pope-francis-childPope Francis’s recently released apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia has received considerable attention because of the issue of divorce and communion. But the 60,000+ word document has much more to say about family life than the dissolution of marriage. For example, it provides some compelling reasons for all Christians (not just Catholics) to support school choice.

The term “school choice” refers to programs that give parents the power and opportunity to choose the schools their children attend, whether public, private, parochial, or homeschool. While there are numerous passages relevant to school choice in Amoris Laetitia, here are four essential quotes:

In honor of the sixth annual National School Choice Week, here are some facts you should know about school choice in America.

What does “school choice” mean?

NSCW-Stacked-LogoThe term “school choice” refers to programs that give parents the power and opportunity to choose the schools their children attend, whether public, private, parochial, or homeschool.

Why is school choice necessary?

While there are some excellent public schools in America, many students are trapped in schools with inadequate facilities, substandard curriculum, and incompetent teachers. Most parents, however, cannot afford to pay for education twice—once in taxes and again in private school tuition. School choice programs empower parents by letting them use public funds set aside for education on programs that will best serve their children. As Bill Cosby, a comedian who holds a doctorate in education, says, “We have a moral and societal obligation to give our children the opportunity to succeed in school, at work, and in life. We cannot meet that obligation unless parents are empowered to select the best schools of their children.”

What types of school choice programs exist for students and families?


sen.scottLast week Senator Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) proposed an amendment to the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind bill that would allow Title I funds–the funds the federal government allocates to districts with high-poverty populations–to follow students out of their assigned district schools to schools of choice.

Democrats in the Senate (joined by six Republicans) successfully fought to keep the portability amendment as well as school vouchers out of the legislation. As Think Progress explains, the White House and Senate Democrats opposed the amendment because some school districts with high concentrations of poverty would lose federal funds.

This certainly seems like a plausible reason to oppose the measure. After all, who wants to harm poor school districts? But as Sen. Scott notes in an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, we must ensure our focus is in the right place—on the children, not school bureaucracies.

“Education is not about protecting a bureaucracy,” says Scott, “it should not be about empowering Washington, and cannot be about an endless, fruitless push for some one-size-fits-all type of system.”

Scott encouraged the Senate to allow portability and return some measure of power to the states in education, saying “Local and state leaders are figuring out that when parents have a choice, kids have a chance.”

You can hear his entire speech in the video below:

school-choice-justiceSocial justice is a term and concept frequently associated with the political Left, and too often used to champion views that are destructive for society and antithetical to justice. Yet for Christians the term is too valuable to be abandoned. Conservatives need to rescue it from the Left and restore it’s true meaning. True social justice is obtained, as my colleague Dylan Pahman has helpfully explained, “when each member, group, and sphere of society gives to every other what is due.”

A key sphere of society in which social justice is in desperate need of restoration is education. The poor deserve the same freedom to obtain a quality education that is too often reserved for those wealthy enough to rescue their children from failing schools. For this reason school choice should be considered a matter of social justice.

As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput says, lack of a quality education is a common thread among persons in severe poverty. And once stuck in deep poverty it’s very hard for anyone to escape due to the lack of skills needed to secure and hold employment:

The largest initiative to combat poverty by funding public schools has occurred in Camden, New Jersey, the poorest small city in America. New Jersey spends about 60 percent more on education per pupil than the national average according to 2012 census figures, or about $19,000 in 2013. In Camden, per pupil spending was more than $25,000 in 2013, making it one of the highest spending districts in the nation.

But as notes, all that extra money hasn’t changed the fact that Camden’s public schools are among in the worst in the nation, notorious for their abysmal test scores, the frequent occurrence of in-school violence, dilapidated buildings, and an on-time graduation rate of just 61 percent.

As Bridget Cusato-Rosa, Principal of Freedom Prep Charter School, says in the mini-documentary about the effort,

A lack of resources is not our problem. I actually despise that argument. I think it’s a scapegoat. ‘We need more money. If we had more money, we could do this, or do this.’ It’s just a Band-Aid for the problem. Why not address the real issue, which is what’s broken right in front of you?