I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of parental choice. I joined this fight over twenty-five years ago because I believe it can help address the systemic inequities so many poor students face. In my mind, the primary purpose of parental choice is to provide those who do not currently have high-quality educational options with access to those options. So while I believe that every student deserves an excellent education in the school that best meets his needs, I also believe that parental choice should be used principally as a tool to empower communities that face systemic barriers to greater educational and economic opportunities. I did not join this movement to subsidize families like mine—which may not be rich, but which have resources and options. I joined the late Polly Williams in 1989 in her courageous fight to make sure that poor families were afforded some opportunity to choose schools in the private sector for their children.
Since then, I have fought alongside many others for parental choice for low-income and working class families throughout the nation. From the beginning, some critics of the parental choice movement have claimed that Republican lawmakers and other conservatives who have strongly supported the principle were only using poor children to establish choice programs. The real agenda, these critics have charged, has been to hijack these initiatives and offer universal vouchers or other types of benefits to even the wealthiest citizens.
I reject this sweeping generalization. I know for a fact that many of those who have supported parental choice over the years did so and continue to do so because they believe that we shouldn’t live in an America where only those of us with money are able to choose the best schools for our children. Unfortunately, Nevada’s education savings program fits the pattern that these critics have decried for years.
Separate from the argument above, some of our allies in the choice movement have made no secret of their preference for universal vouchers or programs that give everyone access to public dollars for private school access. I have been just as clear that I could never approve of a plan that would give those with existing advantages even greater means to leverage the limited number of private school options, to the detriment of low-income families.
So I will not join the celebration of the Nevada education savings account bill. While some may view it as a "landmark" victory for the movement, I do not. At least it is not a victory to those of us who are focused on helping low-income and working class families in their quest to find better options for their children.
Howard Fuller is founder and director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University.