Education: Who really is in it for the kids?

“School choice — It’s a matter of social justice!”

With these words delivered with the passion and cadence of a black preacher, Dr. Howard Fuller, an educational innovator, former superintendent of the Milwaukee, Wisc., school district, co-founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), and long-time advocate of vouchers and charter schools, challenged attendees at a recent meeting of the State Policy Network, an organization of free-market-oriented public policy think tanks.

I was inspired and duly challenged as I sat in the audience at the Scottsdale, Ariz. event.

And it was good to see the large number of black men and women from around the United States in attendance who were there to learn how better to follow Fuller’s lead and demand on behalf of low-income and working class parents what they deserve for their children —quality educational choices, not mediocre ones.

Whether it’s in a public, private, or home school, he said, parents deserve access to all quality choices, not just those they’re forced to accept because of race or economic class.

Instead of the usual school choice arguments that focus on numbers, Fuller and others at the conference put the issue at its most basic level: It’s a question of right and wrong. Certainly, with enhanced school choice, test scores improve across the board and education dollars are more efficiently allocated.

But what matters most is that school choice is the right thing to do, the social-justice thing to do.

As evidenced by those of its members I met, BAEO, a recipient of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation educational grants and an organization without a chapter in the greater Seattle area, reflect Fuller’s passion and dedication.

Given the recent disgrace of the Bellevue teachers’ strike, I would that a local chapter is established soon — very soon.

The funfamental illegality of the walkout has already been noted, and illegal behavior shouldn’t be financially rewarded.

It should be punished as deterrence against it being repeated.

More importantly, however, the stark contrast between the self-serving nature of the strike versus the social-justice nature of the struggles waged by Fuller, BAEO, and countless low-income and minority parents to achieve what Bellevue teachers sought to hold hostage for higher wages and professional pride couldn’t be more profound.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out who really is in it for the kids.

In these economic times, how many would blithely walk off the job unless you got a 5 percent wage increase from your employer on top of a 5.1 percent cost-of-living increase from the state?

And also demand the right to pick and choose how to perform your job?

According to reports in The Seattle Times and from the Bellevue School District Web site, that’s not only what they demanded, that’s what they got.

Bellevue caved, and lawlessness won.

What makes this ironic, per reports in the Sunday’s Times, is that the strike settlement pulls some of the rug out from under work done by former Bellevue superintendent Mike Riley, an education reformer and innovator in his own right.

To what extent he would find affinity with Fuller is beyond me.

But it’s no mere coincidence that some of Riley’s innovations — innovations fought by the teachers’ union and now weakened by the strike settlement — were driven because, again per Sunday’s Times, “…minority, immigrant and low-income students…were struggling.”

Any wonder, then, why many of the most ardent advocates of school choice, opposed by teachers’ unions, come from minority, immigrant and low-income communities?

Teacher strikes are about teachers, not kids, especially not kids in the greatest need.

That they also set an example of how law breaking can be rewarded adds bitter icing to the already rancid cake of educational social injustice.

In the Bellevue strike, kids — and the public — lost.

Scott St. Clair is a regular columnist for the Independent’s sister paper,

the Kirkland Reporter.

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