school choice

State Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-OKC) performed a great service to the voting public by revealing his thought processes on school choice and other issues in a recent commentary for The Oklahoman.

Among other things, Loveless wrote that he believes in “the idea that competition creates better products and happier customers” and blames “Obamacare” for limiting competition, so he supports school vouchers.

Loveless provided no evidence that he has a grasp of the facts of educational life or what research says is necessary to improve schools. He offered no rationale in support of his suggestion that, if we treat schools like they were automobile repair shops, it would benefit — not harm — students. Moreover, Loveless sees nothing wrong with expanding vouchers to the point where they inflict chaos on school systems.

In his fervent call for more freedom of choice, Loveless also reveals his freedom to believe political spin that is factually incorrect. For example, he chooses to believe the false charge that a reduction in administrative spending could produce significant savings. In fact, were Oklahoma’s administrative spending reduced to the lowest level in the nation, and if all the savings went into the classroom, it would only move Oklahoma up one notch in national rankings — to the fourth-lowest in per-student spending.

Loveless shows no remorse when admitting that he sees no harm in inflicting chaos on school systems. Were Loveless to look at the facts of the matter, as opposed to advancing an ideology, he would realize that, if the goal is improving the lives of all of our children, we have gone overboard in promoting educational choice.

Some facts about urban education

Perhaps because Loveless’ legislative district is a horseshoe-shaped gerrymander in which 85 percent of the households are white, he is blissfully unaware of the facts of urban education. For instance, the OKCPS is nearly 90 percent low-income, and it spends only 2.5 percent of its budget on administration. Even before Oklahoma cut education spending by 27 percent (more than any state in the nation), the OKCPS didn’t receive nearly the money that would be required to provide high-quality schools for every child.

By far, the biggest reason for the OKCPS’s shortcomings is school choice. First, it was white flight, then freewheeling suburban sprawl and, ultimately, the proliferation of magnet schools, charters and private schools that undermined our system. Out-of-control choice created OKCPS neighborhood schools with intense concentrations of generational poverty, with so many children who have survived multiple and extreme traumas it defies improvement under any of the policies that the district could afford. Vouchers (and more charters) would only make the situation worse, causing more chaos that could easily spin out of control and lead to a collapse of the system.

On the other hand, had all schools across the metropolitan area taken their fair share of poor children, kids with disabilities and English-language learners, we would not be in such a mess.

Under DeVos, rampant school choice breeds religious fundamentalism

Loveless was free to accept the funding of the Amway heiress Betsy DeVos, who has been named President-elect Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education. DeVos also endorsed Oklahoma City’s KIPP, as her American Federation for Children donated more than $210,000 in Oklahoma legislative races this year.

Like Loveless, we are all free to ignore the tragic consequences of DeVos’ spending, but it is only prudent to look at the results of her lobbying in Indiana, the home state of Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

The reputable, nonpartisan Chalkbeat explains how the expansion of the DeVos voucher system undermined the financial stability of Indiana schools by subsidizing families that would have never attended public schools. It shows:

In 2011, just 9 percent of voucher users had never before gone to public school. … That was true for more than half of students using vouchers in 2016.

Politico’s Benjamin Wermund further explains why DeVos is so committed to freedom of school choice. DeVos has said that her goal is not to “stay in our own faith territory,” but to “advance God’s Kingdom.” As Wermund reports, DeVos sees school choice as a path to “greater Kingdom gain.”

Given the importance of religious issues in the voucher fights, an analysis by Mother Jones’ Stephanie Mencimer is timely. She found that:

Pence’s voucher program ballooned into a $135 million annual bonanza almost exclusively benefiting private religious schools – ranging from those teaching the Koran to Christian schools teaching creationism and the Bible as literal truth – at the expense of regular and usually better-performing public schools.

Mencimer looked into the 316 schools receiving vouchers but could only find four that weren’t religious. Among the majority of schools, she found curricula that teach creationism, Biblical stories and parables as literally true.

DeVos is worth $5.1 billion, and she has bragged that her family has been the largest Republican donor.

Freedom cuts both ways

Of course, Loveless is right about the value of freedom, even if he doesn’t properly respect the role of evidence.

As Anatole France said, we have the freedom to pass laws to forbid both the rich and poor to sleep under bridges and beg in the streets.

Similarly, Oklahomans had the right to choose legislators who would cut taxes on the rich and cut spending on social services to the point where the legs have been cut off of the American Dream and the rungs removed from our state’s ladders of opportunity.

Loveless is free to spout post-fact political spin and make decisions based on ideology, not evidence. I can’t understand why the senator is pro-chaos, but at least he acknowledges the damage that vouchers could do to public education before choosing to ignore it.

Likewise, The Oklahoman has the First Amendment free-speech right to advocate for the privatization of public schools and the evisceration of the part of First Amendment that separates church from state.

Oklahomans also have a right to choose public schools and to oppose the post-truth ethos of Loveless, DeVos and Trumpism. Voters who don’t want to impose chaos on our most vulnerable children in our most challenged schools should demand evidence-driven policies for improving schools and other social service providers.