Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has jumped on the charter school bandwagon. At the Universal Bluford Charter School in Philadelphia, Romney provided a few details about his education policies, which included the creation of a voucher-like system to provide federal funding so that low-income and disabled students can attend charter schools, private institutions and public schools outside of their district.
On it’s face, Romney’s idea sounds good: Take the kids out of the bad schools, and send them to the good schools. But this solution is too simplistic and doesn’t deal with the underlying problems that create and sustain bad schools.
How are students in under-performing schools going to get to the excellent school across town? A student who has to spend one hour traveling to school and another hour getting home has less time for homework and outside activities than a child who attends a neighborhood school.
What sort of neighborhood wide disintegration is likely to ensue as a result of the closure of most, or all local schools? Many people consider a good school to be requirement in order for a community to be considered a nice place to live. With all of the schools closed, or closing, you can expect property values in the neighborhood to decrease–which may further mire the people who live in that community in poverty, due to lack of ability to grow wealth by investing in their homes.
In nice communities people expect to get what they pay for, and one of the amenities they pay for is small-class sizes at the elementary and high-school. Once the limit on class size is reached, no more room is left for additional students to attend from outside of the district; thus, just because a kid a poor community has a voucher that says he can attend another school doesn’t mean that another school will have room to take him.
And here is the issue that the politicians love to skirt: some schools are bad because they are full of kids who have emotional or physical problems. Fixing the problems with the school may necessitate doing something to fix the lives of the kids who attend that school. Rather than investing in sending children to another school district, the answer to solving the educational crisis may lie in investing money and other resources into the children, their parents and the communities in which these people live.
Fixing under-performing schools will require innovative solutions, an investment in people and the places they live. But at the moment it seems more politically expedient to hand out vouchers.