MPS: School choice will not close achievement gap

Vouchers could lead to underfunded schools filled with high-need students

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Fourth in a multi-part series

Over the past few weeks, the MSR has published a series of articles focusing on an organization called Better Ed, which has launched a campaign highlighting the shortcomings of Minneapolis and St. Paul Public schools. They promote “school choice” as a solution. Their main argument is that the schools spend approximately $21,000 per students with very poor student outcomes, especially for African American students.

In the first three parts, Better Ed’s president Devin Foley explained their position and intentions. This week the MSR asked both the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) to respond to several proposals by Better Ed. As of press time we have not received a response from SPPS. Following is the MPS communication department’s response:


 

Minneapolis Public Schools District Headquarters Photo by Charles Hallman
Minneapolis Public Schools District Headquarters Photo by Charles Hallman

MSR: What would be the consequences for public schools if Better Ed’s plan that Twin Cities students and their parents “simply received a voucher” and applied it to the schools of their choice, whether charter, parochial or private?

MPS: If choice were the easy answer, the emergence of charter schools would have erased the achievement gap. It clearly has not. This is a much more difficult, multi-faceted challenge. Even a basic investigation into the proposed voucher system shows that simple school choice will not close the achievement gap.

Equity is a major issue with a voucher system. Private schools are not required to accept students with significant needs including language, special education and homelessness, but public schools are. Better Ed’s proposal would further concentrate high-needs students in underfunded public schools.

Accountability is another significant issue with a voucher system. Private schools are not subject to state or federal student outcomes requirements or reporting. Public schools are held to high standards and report when they do or do not meet those standards.

MSR: Better Ed says that they estimate MPS receives between $14,000 and $21,000 per student per year. Are these estimates accurate and fair?

MPS: Many students have needs that exceed $100,000 in service costs.

MSR: What about those students receiving special education services?

MPS: The complex needs and costs associated with special education services are not addressed through a voucher system. Most private and parochial schools do not offer special education services. In addition, the cost of special education services may exceed the proposed voucher amount.

MSR: Why do you suppose Better Ed seems to be focusing its campaign on the metro area and Black student achievement? Is the group’s intention to encourage Black parents to abandon public schools?

MPS: We cannot speak to Better Ed’s intentions. However, we have invited Better Ed to meet with district leaders to discuss how they can be part of the solution rather than admiring the problem, but they have not taken us up on the offer.

MSR: What do you think is most important for Black parents to know about Better Ed’s claim that school choice would improve their kids’ education?

MPS: A high-quality education is a partnership. Excellent teachers and staff, strong school leaders, positive school climates, challenging and engaging lessons, a culture of belief in students’ potential, community support, family involvement — all of these are important facets of education. School choice alone will not improve a student’s education.

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

 

Read more in the series on Better Ed:

First installment: Public schools foe Better Ed campaigns for school choice

Second installment: Better Ed: People want out of public schools

Third installment: Better Ed: Let parents choose the best schools — and cultures — for their child