October 19, 2016 10:37 AM
Georgia voters will have the opportunity to vote on Amendment 1 when they go to the polls this November. Amendment 1 authorizes the creation of the Opportunity School District, which would have the ability to revitalize the worst academically performing of the Peach State’s elementary and secondary schools. There is considerable opposition to the OSD, with many of its opponents saying that local control of education is far better than a state sponsored takeover.
Recently, I heard a slightly different argument for voting against the OSD. Rather than authorizing the state to attempt to fix the worst schools, the solution should be school choice, specifically by allowing tax dollars spent on education to follow the child, to wherever he or she (or more likely the child’s parents) determine would provide the best education for that child.
It’s an appealing argument, especially to conservatives. But, is it a realistic proposal? If school choice is the answer for a parent whose child is stuck in a failing school, then there must be alternatives to the existing public school system available. And this isn’t always the case. Let’s take a look at the list of schools that would be eligible to become part of the Opportunity School District.
Calhoun County Elementary School serves Calhoun County, located west of Albany in south Georgia. The county has a population of around 6,500 people, including about 1,200 state prison inmates. The Calhoun County School District, in addition to the elementary school, has a middle and high school. All and all, according to Wikipedia, there are a total of 719 students and 49 teachers in the district. How about Twiggs County High School, another school eligible for the Opportunity School District? Twiggs County is located east of Macon on I-16. The district has 1,489 students, and 100 faculty. The entire county, according to WIkipedia, had a population of 8,481 in 2013, and had an unemployment rate of 9.5% in April 2015.
While I picked these two schools at random from the list, it’s unlikely that parents of students attending them have a lot of alternatives to choose from in deciding where to send their children to be educated. The low population of their counties means that there will likely never be enough demand to start a competing school, even if the money were to follow the child.
Promoting school choice in order to improve the quality of education is a noble goal. Letting the tax dollars follow the child can provide a powerful incentive for schools and school systems to improve, rather then seeing their funding go away. But school choice isn’t going to solve the problem in the less dense, rural areas of Georgia, where alternatives are few. Don’t let the siren song of school choice be the only reason to oppose the Opportunity School District.