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“What I want our students and parents to have is hope,” declared Elissa Wahl. Wahl, who serves on the Nevada Charter School Authority and is a co-founder of the Nevada Homeschool Network as well as the RISE Education Resource Center, made her comments as part of a panel discussion after a viewing of the movie The Ticket as part of National School Choice Week in Nevada.
“This entire message is about hope,” echoed Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy director of policy for the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI). Wahl and Lawrence appeared on the panel that also featured the director of the movie, Bob Bowdon, and was moderated by KXNT radio host Kevin Wall.
The movie uses a whistle-stop tour during National School Choice Week last year to highlight the many varieties of school choice – parent trigger (California), homeschooling (Kansas), interdistrict choice (Missouri), charter schools (Chicago, IL), vouchers (Cleveland, OH), online learning (Pennsylvania) and private school (New York). The stories are compelling and often emotional, such as the charter school student from the inner-city who had had two close friends gunned down in the week before she was interviewed.
Bowden revealed that one of his fantasies is “making the opponents of school choice answer” the children in the movie whose emotional stories describe the positive impacts school choice has made on their lives.
He noted, “School choice is a unifying concept.” He added that supporters of different varieties of school choice had sometimes clashed with each other in the past but are beginning to realize they are talking about the same idea – school choice.
“School choice is an issue that bucks all traditional ideological lines,” according to Lawrence. While the common perception may be that school choice is mainly advocated by conservatives, Lawrence pointed out that two of the three parent trigger bills in the last Legislature were introduced by Democrats. He also noted that the parent trigger law in California was mainly pushed by Democrats in that state.
Lawrence discussed how teachers unions “mischaracterize” what school choice is and try to claim that it harms middle class and poor families. “If you’re rich, you don’t need a voucher,” he said, adding that “people are starting to see through” the campaign to demonize and mischaracterize school choice.
Later in the discussion Bowdon claimed teachers unions that fight school choice are acting against the interests of their members. “Choice benefits teachers, too,” Bowdon declared. An occupation for which there is only one employer doesn’t provide employees with much negotiating leverage.
“Competition improves quality,” Bowdon stated, citing the example of makers of the iPhone and Android each trying to make their products better in order to beat the other. He asked why monopolies are considered destructive in other industries but not when it comes to public schooling.
Wahl mentioned the legislative successes in Nevada that opened doors allowing many more families to pursue homeschooling and charter schools.
Most homeschoolers do so because “schools are failing their children,” she said, especially in the case of special needs children. One point that Wahl emphasizes to parents asking about homeschooling is that it “doesn’t have to look like school.”
She also discussed the difficulties in opening charter schools. While the regulatory environment is much more conducive, cost can be prohibitive.
Many charter schools that receive the authority to start never do so because they don’t get the funding, she said, which can hurt those who most need them. “We don’t have them in places they need to be – in the inner-city,” Wahl stated.
The panel agreed that educating the public about school choice is the best avenue to inspire change. Lawrence described how opponents of school choice constantly claim that public schools just need more money to be successful. They will never say how much is enough, he said, just that they always need more.
“We have to win this war of words,” Lawrence stated, otherwise the debate will always be about more money.
Tags: Bob Bowdon, education, Elissa Wahl, Geoffrey Lawrence, Kevin Wall, LIBRE Initiative, National School Choice Week, Nevada Policy Research Institute, NPRI, RISE Education Resource Center, school choice, Teachers union, The Ticket
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