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The week in school choice: Of the people

A narrative continues to grow that an unprecedented focus on private school options somehow threatens the institution of American public education.

The word derives from the Latin word publicus, meaning “of the people.” This concept — that the government belongs to the people and the government should provide for the good of the people — was foundational to the world’s nascent democracies. Where once citizens paid taxes to the monarchy in the hope that it would serve the public too, in democracies they paid taxes directly for infrastructure and institutions that benefited society as a whole. The tax dollars of ancient Athenians and Romans built roads and aqueducts, but they also provided free meals to widows whose husbands died in war. “Public” stood not just for how something was financed — with the tax dollars of citizens — but for a communal ownership of institutions and for a society that privileged the common good over individual advancement.

Early on, it was this investment in public institutions that set America apart from other countries. Public hospitals ensured that even the indigent received good medical care — health problems for some could turn into epidemics for us all. Public parks gave access to the great outdoors not just to the wealthy who could retreat to their country estates but to the masses in the nation’s cities. Every state invested in public universities. Public schools became widespread in the 1800s, not to provide an advantage for particular individuals but with the understanding that shuffling the wealthy and working class together (though not black Americans and other racial minorities) would create a common sense of citizenship and national identity, that it would tie together the fates of the haves and the have-nots and that doing so benefited the nation. A sense of the public good was a unifying force because it meant that the rich and the poor, the powerful and the meek, shared the spoils — as well as the burdens — of this messy democracy.

There’s a case to be made, though, that a pluralistic system that gives all families equal access to all types of schools can strengthen — not weaken — American democracy.


A Washington teacher of the year explains how his mom lied to get him into a better school.

ProPublica probes alternative charter schools that help districts game accountability systems. But system-gaming didn’t start with them.

The New York Times highlights negative voucher results.

Inside the Catholic school that’s a “beacon of hope” for Native American youth.

Betsy DeVos pledges to protect LGBT students after reports that she broke with other Trump Administration on a rollback of Obama-era civil rights guidance on bathroom access for transgender students. Did Democrats pick the right target among President Trump’s cabinet picks?

A New Orleans charter school fights to remain diverse by setting aside seats for disadvantaged students.

A Boston charter school does battle with the Turkish government.

Its charter schools vs teachers unions in L.A. school board races. A pivotal union election could shape the fight there.

Teachers at a D.C. charter school push to unionize.

Dallas’ “private school deserts” complicate choice for low-income families.

Alabama expands the revenue base for its tax credit scholarship program.

Education savings accounts have Cristo Rey eyeing Nevada.

Why is charter school growth leveling off nationally and in Florida?

Tweet of the Week

Quote of the Week

I hope and pray for a day where our local school districts and school board members see themselves as portfolio managers of education opportunities for kids, and not protectionists of a system that they mistakenly believe they’re here to serve, that’s only about adults and not about children.

– Jason Fischer, Florida school board member turned legislator.

The Week in School Choice is our weekly compendium of news and notes from around the country. Sign up here to get it in your inbox, and send links, tips, pushback or feedback to tpillow[at]sufs[dot]org

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)

One Comment

Private schools will continue to get more and more popular as they are slowly proven to be good for students, as the best ones will show themselves to be excellent at education.

What a lot of private school advocates want to do is dismantle the public school system, while funneling money into their garbage for profit, badly run, money pits, where they can peddle their personal beliefs to children while getting paid by the government via taxes.

Private schools should have to struggle, and slowly become better funded and move forward, they should have to show just how great they are, while under a microscope.

I’m afraid the floodgates will open, and the good will be shuffled in with a growing plurality of bad, while we all suffer.

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