There’s one last point that I want to make in considering the problems with the school choice movement. This particular complication isn’t one that I thought of myself; it was first pointed out to me by one of my co-teachers.
The school where I’m currently working is relatively small. I’ve moved into a very rural district neighboring the Athens area, and one of the defining characteristics of this district is that it isn’t big enough to justify having more than one middle and high school. This means that for children living in the district, once they get to sixth grade (that’s when kids typically start middle school in Georgia), they get bused to the middle school campus located just down the road from the county seat. Three years later, when they start ninth grade, they continue to be bused to the high school campus, just across the street.
That’s it for local school options in my district. For half of our students’ academic careers, they have only one choice inside the district. The nearest private school is located twenty minutes away by car. This isn’t a big deal if you have a working car and can afford the cost of gas to make that commute every day, but that’s not necessarily a tenable situation for a lot of the families that we serve. Our district is classified as a Title I district because, surprise, over half of the student population qualifies for free and reduced lunch due to their families’ low income level.
This is not an uncommon picture of rural school districts in Georgia and elsewhere.
In the event of a national voucher program, the overwhelming majority of families in our school district would be de facto unable to make use of such a program. They need the busing that the district provides to get their kids to and from school; a private school may not offer transportation to children who live too far away. It’s unlikely a new private school would pop up within the district to serve the population that doesn’t want to use the public school; the startup costs would be prohibitively expensive for getting a slice of an already small population to buy in to a new program.
Keep in mind that because it’s a rural district, the majority of families who would be left in the lurch by pushing a school voucher system lean conservative. Vouchers are a policy that get advocated by conservatives who want to diminish government under the auspices of an ideology that purports the superiority of free markets over communal cohesion. This whole idea doesn’t quite manage to come together in a way that would serve the people that school choice advocates claim it would serve.
Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins – New York Times