by Edward Fiske and Helen F. Ladd
Americans are now confronted with two radically different visions of public education. Which vision ultimately prevails will go a long way toward determining the quality of the education available to future generations of children.
The first — call it the “private” — vision can be seen in the well-funded efforts in states and localities across the country to dismantle many of the fundamental structures of public education that have evolved since the mid-19th century and to replace them with models borrowed from the private sector.
These efforts include unfettered expansion of charter schools, many of them run by for-profit companies (Louisiana); vouchers to middle class families for private school tuition (Wisconsin); and tax credits for those who donate to “scholarship” funds for private schools (Virginia). The private vision has received millions of dollars of support from major foundations, including Gates and Walton, and from wealthy individuals.
The second, or “public,” vision seeks to preserve traditional structures of public school systems while acknowledging that the time has come to diversify the ways in which education is delivered. This vision recently received a boost in Florida, where voters defeated an amendment that would have cleared the way for a statewide voucher program. Earlier this month a judge in Louisiana ruled that the state’s new voucher program violates the state Constitution because it relies on funds intended for public schools. Read more.