Obama on School Choice (page 2)

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Updated on Feb 14, 2009

However, not everyone agrees with that assessment. “I’m a product of Catholic education,” says Linda Chavez, Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity. “And I’m very much for all forms of school choice. I think the competition that private Catholic schools can bring to bear can end up improving public school education.”

Chavez believes that if parents aren’t tied by economic circumstances to go only to the public school in their neighborhood, it could greatly increase the competition, and subsequently the performance, of public and private schools.

“The democratic leadership has been very reluctant to endorse anything that might be perceived as a challenge to the public schools’ monopoly,” Chavez says. “Obama was endorsed by the NEA, which explains his stance.”

The National Education Association (NEA) published the following statement on their Web site: “Despite desperate efforts to make the voucher debate about ‘school choice’ and improving opportunities for low-income students, vouchers remain an elitist strategy. From Milton Friedman’s first proposals, through the tuition tax credit proposals of Ronald Reagan, through the voucher proposals on ballots in California, Colorado, and elsewhere, privatization strategies are about subsidizing tuition for students in private schools, not expanding opportunities for low-income children.”

Vouchers aside, school choice is an important component of Obama’s plan for reforming education. Here’s a summary of his plan regarding school choice:

Create an Innovative Schools Fund

The Innovative Schools Fund will provide funds to states and school districts to implement plans to create a “portfolio” of successful public school types, including charters, nonprofit schools, Montessori schools, career academies and theme-focused schools. The Innovation Schools Fund will supplement state, local and private funding for efforts to broaden the numbers of public school choices available to students, and seek to ensure that supported efforts are appropriately tailored to ensure the educational and economic success of underperforming students in the district.

Support High-Quality Schools and Close Low-Performing Charter Schools

Obama will double funding for the Federal Charter School Program to support the creation of more successful charter schools, particularly in high-needs school districts where students continue to be trapped in underperforming schools. The Obama administration will provide this expanded charter school funding only to states that improve accountability for charter schools, allow for interventions in struggling charter schools and have a clear process for closing down chronically underperforming charter schools. The Obama administration will also prioritize supporting states that help the most successful charter schools expand to serve more students.

Adam Thibault believes this is a good approach. “I think we need to be careful who we are giving charters to,” Thibault says. “There are some fantastic charters and others that are struggling. Many charter schools, though, report having several hundred students on the waiting list. They have a lot of advantages.”

Chavez says she has consistently supported public schools and she will continue to do so, but she believes public schools have failed huge segments of the student population. “I would like to see more public school choice, having schools take in more students beyond the geographic boundaries of the neighborhood,” Chavez says. “I think allowing parental choice will pressure underperforming schools to do better.”

Want to learn about the public school options available in your local area, such as charter, magnet, or alternative schools? Check out's SchoolFinder tool.

What are Obama's other plans for education? Check out Obama on College Funding, Obama on Early Childhood Education, Obama on NCLB, Obama on Math, Science, and Tech Education, and Obama on Teacher Recruitment and Retention.

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