Can graft and racial politics save public schools? Just maybe. Let me explain.
Public schools face an exodus of students. Even before COVID, parents were pulling their kids out of failing (and often unsafe) public schools in favor of private schools that cost more money but offered better and safer educations. Other parents were pulling their kids out for homeschooling, which is more work for parents but also can offer better — and certainly safer — education.
This trend put public schools at risk. The parents pulling their kids out were, on average, the parents most interested in their kids’ educations, the parents who’d been most likely to support school funding, to volunteer, to donate and to be voices for public education. With them, the schools not only lost student bodies — a blow in itself since funding depends in part on enrollment — but also vital political and financial support.
Those losses, naturally enough, encourage other parents to pull their kids. As schools lost the kids with the most involved parents — kids who tend to be the better students — even “good” schools faced a reputation hit. The result was a self-reinforcing spiral that in a book a few years back I called a “K-12 implosion.”
As I noted at the time, public schools’ potential salvation lay in charter schools. They’re publicly funded and part of the public-school system, but they have many of private schools’ virtues. To the extent that public schools could attract students to charters over private schools or homeschooling, they were keeping those students in the system and thus preserving funding and parental support.