School Choice Is a Human Right

Published November 1, 2008

The National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education has made a public appeal for all members of the Jewish community to support federal school choice legislation, the Civil Rights Act for Equal Educational Opportunity.

The bill would require every state to provide equal educational funding for children in both public and private schools, while respecting the schools’ autonomy in hiring and providing services. It also would require states to allow homeschooling families to run schools that meet their needs and would leave all matters of funding and educational standards to states and voters.

Transcends Other Concerns

The NCJFE made its appeal at a September 18 press conference. The issue transcends all religious, racial, and party lines: School choice is a human right, and most countries other than the United States already recognize it as such.

Since the advent of the government-run public education system we take for granted as the norm, wealthy families have always exercised school choice. Those who believe their local government-run public school is inadequate and who can afford to do so either send their children to private school or move to a district with a better-performing public school.

But millions of American families cannot afford to pay private tuition or move to neighborhoods with better schools. Inner-city parents who are forced to send their children into public schools where they are more likely to become victims of violent crime than high school graduates want options. Many of the leaders of the school choice movement—in Milwaukee, in Washington, DC, and in New Orleans, for example—are African-American Democrats.

More Money Isn’t Answer

They know throwing more money at public education—which already accounts for 7 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, more than any other sector besides health care—isn’t the answer, no matter how many pundits claim it is.

“What many [people] don’t know is how little correlation there is between spending and success,” said Bob Bowden, a documentary filmmaker who spoke at the NCJFE press conference. “New Jersey is number one in spending in the United States and number 37 in SAT scores—showing the disconnect between what we spend and what we get from public schools. There is no amount of dollars that would be enough for these people to sufficiently address this problem. It’s about jobs. It’s about adults. It’s not about children. It’s about protecting the educational establishment, which is a multi-billion-dollar corporation in this state and around the country.

“I interviewed a kid, just a regular kid in a Camden public school—not learning disabled,” Bowden continued. “By the 10th grade he still did not know his alphabet, and in math he got to four times four. That’s how far he got in the public school there. This is about the needs of kids even more than it is about the money.”

Human Right Denied

About 150 years ago the U.S. government recognized another essential human right—the right to be free from slavery. We have an all-too-similar situation in our schools today, as a handful of people determine the course of others’ lives without their consent in order to maintain their own power.

Condemning an entire generation of children to lives of quiet desperation while the rest of the world passes them by so teacher unions can retain their political power is a form of tyranny.

School choice is a human right. This truth is self-evident.

Karla Dial ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.