School Choice Is Here to Stay

Richard Komer:

The 2010 elections had many obvious effects, but one of the lesser-known is that they revived the school-choice movement in a big way. Although many education writers had assumed the movement was dead, there have been far more efforts to pass school-choice programs this year than ever and, more importantly, the success rate has gone up too.
This reflects the political nature of school choice, which has in modern times been promoted primarily by Republicans. Increasingly, however, Democrats, particularly minority Democrats, have begun bucking the wishes of the national teachers unions, which oppose school choice in any form.
School choice has even broken into the national consciousness with the success of such documentaries as “The Lottery” and “Waiting for ‘Superman.'” These focused on parents’ efforts to get their children into charter schools, which are public schools operated independently of their local school districts–and, not coincidentally, without teacher union involvement.
From the perspective of status quo supporters, charter schools are the least threatening form of school choice, because they remain public schools, meaning they cannot charge tuition and their admissions practices typically are controlled by lottery. This year has seen dramatic increases in interest in charter schools, as an alternative to regular public schools. Even the Obama administration got into the act, by making the removal of existing caps on the number of charter schools a component of states’ applications for federal “Race to the Top” funds.