School choice is not supported by all choice advocates

 Photo Credit: Metro Nashville Public Schools
Photo Credit: Metro Nashville Public Schools

By: Reginald Barbour

The term “school choice” has been the buzz word around education for the past couple of months in the news. As a native Washingtonian, I understand the importance of having choices when it comes to educating your children. We are, in fact, the land of choice in the District. We have traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, the Opportunity scholarship or voucher program and of course, the option to home-school. And while many may take these options for granted, I, for one, do not. I do, however, take offense to people who are opposed to school choice for others when they exercise choice with their own children.

Allow me to explain. I was talking to a woman while our children were in their Tae Kwon Do class about school choice and all of the available options we have in the city. We talked about charters and agreed that we’re glad they are available and appreciate that they that offer various types of programs of study. “Having the ability to choose is critical,” she said.

However, when we began talking about the Opportunity Scholarship Program or the voucher program her support came to a screeching halt. She adamantly opposed any voucher program that would give “certain kids” access to private schools with public funding. Now I’m a Black man and she’s a white woman. Of course, my eyebrows raised a little when her words became insulting as it was apparent that she was referring to children who come from low-income homes. They are the population the OSP serves and they are predominately Black or Latino.

There was a critical pivot in our conversation. As much as I wanted to walk away, I had to stay and defend those who weren’t there to speak for themselves. It occurred to me that perhaps she had some skin in the game. Perhaps her children have been affected by the program. So I asked her what school her children attended and she said “St. Alban’s” – one of the most prestigious private schools in the city. Its population is mostly rich, privileged white kids who come from rich, privileged white families. Do you see where I’m going here?

She was not open to all parents having access to high-quality educational options regardless if they can afford it or not. She wanted “those kids” to stay on their side of the socioeconomic scale and stop trying to dabble in hers. She wanted the elite to stay the elite and not mix with the others. Racist and classist are two words that came to mind during our conversation.

I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m not. Typically, people who do not support vouchers have money to make critical education choices for their children. They can either move to an area with high-performing traditional public schools, hire a tutor for their children, or pay tuition to a private school. Sometimes they are able to do all three. I have never heard of or met a parent with meager means who does not want school choice or the same opportunity to send their children to a school of their choice regardless of their income. They understand the importance of having access. They also understand the value of choice. I believe we cannot move ahead as a collective group until we rid ourselves and each other with racist and/or classist thoughts and actions. We have to come together as one for our children.

Reggie Barbour lives in Washington, DC and is a husband and father of two sons. As an accountant by trade and fierce education advocate by nature, nothing is more important than ensuring his sons receive the best education possible for their lives. What’s more, Reggie believes that all families should have access to high-quality educational options as a way to help put their children on a successful trajectory in life. Reggie spends his time learning what he can about educational options and sharing those learnings with other families to help enlighten them to what’s possible.