One Question: What’s Behind the Politics of School Choice? –

Each issue, The Progressive poses one question to a panel of expert voices—writers, thinkers, politicians, artists, and others who help shape the national conversation. For our August/September 2023 issue, we asked: What’s behind the politics of school choice?


Executive director of the Network for Public Education

The simple answer is the destruction of our democratically governed public schools. The concept of “the money follows the child” plays nicely into the rightwing, libertarian goal of having families, not taxpayers, pay for K–12 education. 

This scheme would allow politicians to, over time, reduce how much each family gets without community input. The rich will enjoy elite private education; the poor will receive minimal educational services. 

School choice will further reduce the number of unionized teachers who pose a threat to rightwing power. And it will achieve another important goal of the right by giving parents the ability to isolate their children from diversity and the wide range of American opinion and thought. School choice has a popular appeal, but, in the end, it will deliver a fragmented market system with most Americans having no good choices at all.


National coalition director for The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools

Since the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, public education in this country has been the great equalizer to achieve equity, economic prosperity, and an educated democratic society. Regrettably, the pathway to leveling the playing field for working families has always been a quest that has threatened millionaires and billionaires. 

Instead of desiring a well-funded, highly resourced public education system, millionaires and their allies have been dead set on divesting from public education, demonizing public school educators, and limiting the accurate teaching of history. 

Under the guise of “school choice,” this well-funded and misguided movement has been laser-focused on siphoning funds from schools in Black, brown, rural, and impoverished neighborhoods. Neoliberals and conservatives have united around the idea of serving oneself, rather than providing for the common good. It is clear that vision was never about quality or choice; this is but a scapegoat to tear down the democratic ideals upon which our schools were built and to instead continue to build personal wealth. 

The privatization of education is a small part of the mission to destroy democracy in the name of personal and corporate gain. When all else fails, we must follow the money.


Board Member of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education

The answer to this question is complex because “school choice” does not exist in a vacuum. The politicization of education is intrinsically connected to housing, economic development, and juvenile justice reform, laced with the co-opted language of equity that entices families to segregate voluntarily. However, the main motivation for modern attacks on education likely stems from the need to increase tax revenue in major urban cities nationwide.

As a result of the 1970s “white flight” from urban America to the safety of suburbia, cities became ghost towns haunted by poverty, crime, and underfunded schools because the wealth flew with those who left. Years of urban neglect led to low property values and an opportunity to resurrect cities from the dead. The powers that be want their cities back, and what better way to do that than by guaranteeing that returning families will “choose” the school their children attend instead of the gentrified community’s zip code determining that fate?

The Progressive Magazine

August 28, 2023

8:00 AM

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