I was attending an Adoration service at the private Catholic high school where I teach earlier this month when I heard the news that there was yet another school shooting, this time at a nearby public high school here in Gardena. The mood was somber as the president of our school told us we needed to pray for the students who were injured. He also announced that because we were only a few miles away from Gardena High, our school would be on lockdown until further notice.
I looked around at my students and wondered what was going through their heads. Did they know any of the students at Gardena High? Though some of my students travel relatively long distances to attend our small, but successful, private school, many live in and grew up in the surrounding community. For those students who call Gardena home, I wondered if they were considering the fact that they could have been in the midst of that horrifying experience with their public school peers at that very moment if their parents hadn’t chosen, and had the resources, to send them to our private school.
School shootings can of course happen anywhere, but how would my students’ lives be different if they didn’t attend this school? What would their lives be like if they went to the school the government selected for them based on their geographic location, instead of the one their families chose for them based on their values and decision making abilities?
The truth is, most of the parents who send their children to our modest private school don’t have the luxury of choosing between an excellent public school and an excellent private school. The parents who send their kids here sacrifice and struggle to make tuition payments. But what happens to the local families who want the same for their children but can’t afford to pay for private education?
There is a demoralizing side effect that accompanies a lack of school choice for financially struggling parents. Most pay for the education their children receive via their hard earned tax dollars, but they are, in most states, unable to have much choice in which schools those tax dollars go to, nor to which schools their children attend. After working as a teacher for the past fourteen years in both public and private schools, I know that parents don’t ever give up hope on providing what is best for their children. They get frustrated, they get angry, but they don’t give up.
Though education faces a perfect storm of increasingly poor outcomes supported by failing economies, there are solutions.
Here in Los Angeles County, the public school system spends roughly $10,000 per student while the average private school spends $8,000 per student, often with superior results. If parents could choose which school their tax dollars go to, studies show that the free market would reward good schools, public or private, and for every family that chooses private, the taxpayer would save money.
Many states are already implementing models along these lines including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. These solutions have not solved all problems in education for these states, of course, but they have boldly challenged the failing status quo and are empowering families to make better choices for their children.
There are many who strongly oppose any solution that would put public schools in greater competition with private schools. Their arguments are plethora, but the bottom line of the status quo remains: families in lower socioeconomic regions of the nation — those with the greatest need for school choice — will not have the same option as the wealthy and the powerful (including the First Family, whose daughters attend a private school) of choosing where their children are educated. To the degree that there is an underclass in this nation, lack of school choice will only perpetuate it.
School choice will not prevent all acts of senseless violence like that which tragically occurred at Gardena High and in other high schools across the nation recently. But it will make a big difference by empowering parents, who, along with their children, have the greatest stake in education, to choose where their children are educated. It will force failing public schools to find solutions beyond those offered by the limited imaginations of local, state, and federal bureaucrats which currently perpetuate failure. It will lessen the economic burdens accompanying education under which governments and taxpayers currently struggle.
We’re a nation that has always prided itself on individual freedom. It’s high time we extend that same principle to schoolchildren and their parents.