The Jacksonville Public Education Fund did a study on the landscape of school choice here in town, and it was very enlightening.

The study pointed out that it couldn’t evaluate the difference in quality between public schools and private schools that take vouchers. I think that should enrage even the most ardent supporter of vouchers. It means we are giving money to these schools, and at the end of the day, we really have no idea how they are doing. It also blows a hole in accountability, doesn’t it? Why is accountability a necessity for public schools, but draws a collective shrug when applied to private schools that take public money?

Then the study mentions how choice options are draining tens of millions of dollars away from Duval County Public Schools, something JPEF doesn’t seem all that concerned about. This loss of resources has a huge effect on class size and a whole host of other things. Despite that, JPEF suggests we double down on more choice options, which will siphon even more money away.

Most of this money is diverted to charter schools, which have exploded over the last five years. At no time does the report mention that many are run by for-profit management companies and as a group perform worse than their public school counterparts, a fact anyone can plainly see when they visit JPEF’s website.

The study makes no effort to tell us which option is better. I mean, isn’t that the question we really want answered — are charters and voucher schools better than public schools or vice versa? If one of the options is better, should we really be funneling our children into the worse option just so we can say parents had a choice? It’s almost like the JPEF doesn’t want the answer, which really isn’t all that surprising.

You see, I don’t think it should be lost on anybody that the board of the JPEF is made up of numerous charter school operators and pro-school choice advocates. Their money bankrolled the findings, which are basically:

Finally, the sample number they used to come up with their recommendations was 1,000 caregivers and parents — not much when you consider the 130,000 students who attend both public schools and charter schools, then add another 20,000 private and homeschooled children. This means the potential sample size was a quarter-million parents and caregivers, and the study barely reached half of 1 percent of them. That is not mentioned at all.

I think we do need more school choice options. We need more schools like Frank Peterson, A. Phillip Randolph, and the academic and arts magnet schools, but what we don’t need are more voucher schools and charters, especially when one type underperforms and the other is set up so we have no idea how they are doing. What they really represent is privatization.

Choice just for choice’s sake is a bad choice, and the answer is to fix the problems in our public schools and give the schools all the resources they need to succeed, not to further drain their resources and outsource our children’s education.

Without a doubt I believe public schools are by far the best thing going, and that’s 
even with all the obstacles put in front of them. The thing is, even if you disagree, shouldn’t we be having an honest debate? Shouldn’t we be looking to facts and evidence to make our decisions? Instead, Duval County gets a self-serving report by a think tank financed by charter school operators and school-choice fanatics.

In the end, choice just for the sake of choice is a bad choice.