“There must be a special place in Hell for these Privatizers, Charterizers, and Voucherizers! They deserve it!” That’s how a state legislator characterized the school choice movement back in 2007, as the Gazette reminds us. A professor at a teachers’ college said recently that charter schools “harm Black children” for money—and never mind that parents choose to send their kids to charters.
Reformers, meanwhile, point out that, as poorly as many white and Asian kids are doing in public schools, Black and Hispanic kids are doing far worse on average (with exceptions, of course). And wealthier parents have the means to get their children a quality education even if they have to work outside the school system to do it. To reformers, school choice is especially important for less-advantaged families, who often are trapped in the worst-performing schools.
Dan Schaller, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, recently argued that Colorado “families flock to charter schools because of the quality and flexibility they offer to meet the unique needs of our students.” He pointed out that more than 137,000 Colorado students attend charter schools. And “Colorado is ranked second in the nation for charter school student achievement” according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, he noted.
Charter schools are public schools, however much their defenders and critics might try to deny it. Typically they have more flexibility than traditional public schools. But charter schools (and other public schools) can involve private money. As Jenny Brundin reported in July, “The Daniels Fund promises to add 100,000 seats to non-traditional schools by 2030. Those can be secular or religious private schools, publicly funded charter schools, or ‘micro-schools.'”
Colorado still has a vibrant network of charter schools even though many Democratic politicians hate them. Colorado also has a strong choice program among traditional public schools, as parents can apply to send their children to any public school, if space is available.
Other states have more choice
Colorado does not have, and is not likely to get under Democratic control, a more robust system of tax-funded school choice. Various other states are turning to broader school-choice programs.
Fox news reports that “six states passed universal school choice” in 2023, and Corey DeAngelis of the American Federation For Children expects more states to follow in 2024.
Arizona’s Goldwater Institute calls its state’s “universal education savings accounts (ESAs) . . . the nation’s new gold standard for school choice.” Sixteen states have such a program. That organization says, “At the core of the school choice movement is the aspiration that every family obtain the freedom to pursue educational excellence for their children—regardless of their geographic location or socioeconomic background.”
Here is how Arizona describes its program: “With the ESA program, the money that would pay for that student’s education in a neighborhood school follows that student to whichever school the parents choose for their child, including education at home. ESA dollars cover multiple education expenses such as private school tuition, curricula, educational supplies, tutoring and more.”
The fight over money and control
The Colorado State Board of Education is considering rule changes that could reduce tax funding for homeschoolers, arguably a rollback of school choice. My Tech High, which provides part-time online enrichment programs (and which my family uses), warned that proposed rule changes could “eliminate funding entirely for online homeschool enrichment programs in grades K-5,” “reduce the role of parent choice in selecting approved curriculum,” and “limit or otherwise curtail the ability for public schools to contract with outside providers for the purpose of providing homeschool enrichment programs.”
But Carolyn Martin of Christian Home Educators of Colorado is not a fan of the tax benefits anyway. “While the attitude of education bureaucrats remains opposed to our freedom to homeschool, these rules do not threaten the homeschool law,” she writes. Martin wants to “ensure homeschool families remain as free as possible from government control.” “What the government funds, the government controls,” she adds.
Homeschool advocate Treon Goossen, whom Martin quotes, is very wary of any government involvement. She warned, “Charter schools began offering homeschool programs. The public school system has slowly but surely over time infiltrated the homeschool community and has steadily eroded parental freedom in education.”
This debate has been going on for at least a quarter-century. Back in 1998, I attended the Separation of School and State Alliance conference in Colorado. Marshall Fritz, founder of that organization, argued that government funding inevitably brings government controls.
I sympathize with the concerns of Martin, Goossen, and Fritz. At the same time, I sympathize with those parents who pay taxes for schools that they do not use, who then have to pay out-of-pocket for the private options that they do use. I view my participation in My Tech High as a way to get back some small portion of my tax dollars to educate my own child.
Obviously programs such as Arizona’s ESAs do come with a lot of government strings. Government will approve which expenses are covered and which are not. And parents are forbidden to use the money for, say, better food or better housing, which might actually do more to improve their children’s academic performance in some cases.
People like Fritz would completely do away with government involvement in education, including all subsidies. As I have pointed out before, if we presume that government should subsidize the poor, simply giving tax dollars to disadvantages families with no strings attached would maximize choice, including educational choice. For example, if a mother wanted to use the money to work fewer hours and spend more time with her children, she could do that. But getting the government out of education and letting parents decide how to run their lives is unthinkable to almost all of today’s politicians and probably to most voters.
At least in the short run, we are not likely to get more school choice in Colorado, and we probably will get incrementally less. But at least parents retain substantial choice within the public-school system. And parents remain free to choose private schools or homeschooling—provided they are financially able to pay double.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.
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