All across the country, officials of traditional public school districts are using retaliatory tactics against various school choice programs.
A recent example is the Racine Unified School District of Wisconsin, which temporarily canceled bus services to students participating in a voucher program with Renaissance Schools. Racine and Renaissance have since worked out an agreement, but only after angry parents and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), a legal action group headquartered in Milwaukee, spoke up on behalf of the 44 students who would have been without buses.
In a press release, WILL included a statement by one of the Renaissance School parents. “With no warning, Racine Unified told us that they will stop busing,” the release quotes Shakela Johnson as saying. “But, how is my son supposed to get to school? They have yet to give me an explanation as to why this is happening. It seems like we’re being punished because we chose to attend a school in the choice program.”
Dick Komer, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, says such behavior is not uncommon.
“One obvious motivation for any school district is cost,” Komer said. “If by canceling bus service for nonpublic school students they can save money, which is a possible motivation. The system places the district in a position of having to provide services to families they no longer consider their constituents or customers.
“This sort of arrangement is one always rife for abuse,” Komer continued. “We always hope that the response of public school officials to the increased competition will be to try harder to better serve their remaining students, but when retaliation against those who have already left also saves the district money, you have a potential problem.”
Charter School Victimized
School choice participants have endured retaliation from district administrators all over the country. Audrey Spalding of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy says there have been several similar incidents in Michigan alone.
“Just last year a district closed an entire charter school because they wanted to run it for themselves,” Spalding said. “Within 30 days, a very popular Japanese-language-oriented charter school was reduced to a few boxes in a storage unit. The district dealt a major blow to that very successful school.”
Spalding says traditional public school district officials in Michigan are often resistant to school choice programs.
“It’s this bizarre paranoia of choice,” Spalding said. “One district outside Detroit was so terrified of enrolling students in other districts that administrators would wait outside of houses to see if students actually lived there.”
Spalding was referring to an assistant superintendent in Grosse Point, Michigan who allegedly staked out houses to make sure schoolchildren actually lived there and weren’t claiming false residency. According to a Bridge Magazine report in 2013, the same assistant superintendent would peer through windows and knock on doors asking to see where the children slept to determine whether the children were legally residing in the district.
Anti-Choice Sentiments Decreasing
Although these and other questionable behaviors by traditional district school administrators continue, Spalding says she believes anti-choice sentiments in education are growing weaker.
“I think it was more prevalent years ago, but choice has proliferated,” Spalding said. “Choice is more prominent now. It’s mainstream. At least in Michigan, what we are seeing is the holdouts; the people who are still hostile to choice are just behind the times.”
Chris Neal ([email protected]) writes from New York, New York.
Image by ThoseGuys119.
Nancy Derringer, “School choice: Fortress Grosse Pointe: In world of school choice, community says ‘stay out’,” Bridge Magazine, June 16, 2013, http://bridgemi.com/2013/06/fortress-grosse-pointe-in-world-of-school-choice-community-says-stay-out/
M. D. Kittle, “Racine busing trouble hits home: ‘We’re the ones who are suffering’,” watchdog.org, February 20, 2015, http://watchdog.org/201217/busing-racine-school-choice/
Mackinac Center website: http://www.mackinac.org/