Kyle Wingfield: Debunking school choice myths

Kyle Wingfield

I’ve been reading and rebutting lazy, nonsensical, hypocritical arguments against school choice for over a decade now. It is genuinely difficult for the education establishment to come up with something more cringe-inducingly, obviously ridiculous than what I’ve already heard.

Oh, but they keep trying.

The latest is a line of attack that school choice will hurt schools in rural Georgia. This one is especially guffaw-able thanks to its blatant, inherent contradictions.

A perfect example of this argument, such as it is, can be found within a recent op-ed the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published online. It starts with this dubious assertion:

“In Georgia, a statewide voucher program would do the greatest harm to rural communities.”

Not just rural public schools, mind you, but entire communities would suffer if students could choose different schools. Why? The piece continues:

“Student achievement in these areas is already well below the national average. A recent report by the Rural School and Community Trust ranked Georgia near the bottom of the nation for our poor levels of funding and academic achievement in rural schools.”

And this is an argument for not letting students choose other schools?

With enemies like these — pointing out the stark deficiencies of rural schools, and suggesting parents might want to explore options that aren't ranked near the bottom of the nation in student achievement — school choice hardly needs friends. Given the importance of education in community development, rural communities are actually victims of the current system, which stifles competition and choice.

But the real humdinger here comes immediately after all the bashing-rural-schools-to-save-rural-schools:

“Many students in rural regions of Georgia, the ones harmed most by diverting funds from public schools, would not even be able to take advantage of the vouchers, because private schools are uncommon in these areas.”

Wait. Wait just one minute.

The argument is that students taking advantage of different options will take money away from public schools in rural Georgia — and also that students in rural Georgia don’t even have different options to take advantage of.

Seriously?

The only logic I can conjure up here is that a student leaving a public school in, say, the city of Decatur in metro Atlanta might somehow have a financial ripple effect on the public schools in Decatur County on the Florida border. But such thinking ignores how the proposed legislation would work. It also defies all common sense.

Consider: No one claims a student moving from one public school to another is “hurting” the first school or “harming” that community. That happens every day, without sparking an outcry from the education establishment. And yet, for the school the student left, it’s exactly the same functionally and financially as if the student left for a private school.

What’s more, the argument ignores that taxpayer dollars don’t go to a school for the school’s sake; the purpose of the funding is to educate children. When a student leaves, the funding isn’t the only thing that goes with him. So does the purpose of that funding and, more to the point, the expense of educating the child. A 2019 study by a University of Georgia professor found the expense of educating a child — in all county school districts in Georgia, including rural Georgia — on average is greater than the state funding in question.

Taking you through the muck passing for logic in this flimsy argument, dear reader, comes at a risk. So, let me close by ensuring we don’t lose sight of the real problems here.

The fact that many communities in Georgia, not only rural ones, have “student achievement ... well below the national average” is a real problem.

And the fact that some adults put their own interests above those of students, who simply want and deserve better options? Well, that just might be the biggest problem of all.

Dalton native Kyle Wingfield is president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (www.georgiapolicy.org).

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