You Chose Your School, But You Don’t Support School Choice? Tell Me More.

By Jennifer Wagner

This week is National School Choice Week, which is a celebration of the many different schooling types available to families today.

If you have a school-aged child, you may have seen the bright yellow scarves that visually represent the week in classrooms and living rooms across the country. There’s also a dance. It’s all incredibly positive and uplifting.

Sadly, I am not the most positive or uplifting person on the planet, so I want to talk about something that might feel awkward if you’re one of those parents who read that intro and is loudly proclaiming in your head all the reasons why you hate school choice.

I noted in a recent post that Just over 40 percent of American families — roughly 20 million students — practice school choice via open enrollment, homeschooling, charters and private schools.

That figure only takes into account four types of school choice (excluding the old-fashioned way, which we’ll get to in a minute), and those numbers are almost six years old, which means there’s a pretty good chance the percentage has gone up since then.

But let’s go with the data we’ve got: If 10 parents read this post, four of them chose a non-zoned public school, a charter school, a private school or homeschooling instead of the school to which their child was geographically assigned.

Look around.

Is one of those four people you?

Four of your friends?

Do you judge yourself or those people for making that choice, or do you say something like, “Well, I/he did what was best for my/his kid, but we should still support traditional public schools.”

Okay, cool. I’ll accept that argument for the time being, but only because it brings me to a bigger point that I make all the time with affluent friends who send their kids to “good” schools in “good” school districts.

Me: “How did you get your son into that school?”

Them: “Well, we moved, obviously. We couldn’t live in the urban core once he was out of day care. Those schools are crap.”

Me: “So you chose to buy or rent a house in another community based on your perception of the quality of the schools there?”

Them: “Yeah, duh.

Me: “So you chose a school?”

Them: “Is your brain broke, Jen?”

Me: “No, I just want to make it clear that you practiced school choice, and you were able to do that because you had the money to.”

Them: “But we’re still in public school!”

Me: “Yes, but you chose your public school, and you chose it based on the parameters that were important to you as parents. You also took the funding that would have gone to the school in the urban core and moved it to another school district.”

Them: “Oh, I get it.”

But most of them don’t because I still catch them on social media railing on the 30,000-foot issue of choice or, at times, on other parents who pull their kids out of one school to attend another. (Side note: Moms, we are the absolute worst to other moms when we ought to be the most sympathetic. I’ve got to deal with all the same @#$% you do. I may be epically screwing up this whole parenting thing, but save your judgment until we see how the kids turn out.)

Working in issue advocacy — on the issue of school choice and beyond — has taught me to be far less judgmental. I may, in fact, be turning into a live-and-let-live liberal Libertarian. It’s not that I don’t care about your kids or your choices; I just believe that you’re doing your best to do what’s best for them, and I’m going to fight to give you as much opportunity as possible.

Shorter: You do you, suburban moms, homeschooling dads, charter and magnet school families, private school parents and every other grownup out there who’s got a kid in your life that you’re trying to educate.

Almost all of you are choosing one way or another, and that’s something to be proud of.

Here’s the other thing: You can’t put the choice-genie back in the bottle once people realize they’ve got options. If 40 percent of Americans were choosing in 2013, I’d wager $20 that number hasn’t gone down.

The yellow scarves you’ll see kids wearing this week for National School Choice Week are important because they are the outward and visible sign of bygone barriers and a slow-but-steady evolution of expectations among families who’ve always sought the best educational fit for their kids — through whatever means necessary and available.

So instead of being jerks to each other and complaining that other people’s choices (or maybe your own?) are undermining a system that a huge number of us have already rejected in some traditional (housing!) or non-traditional (charters, private school choice!) way, let’s take this occasion to celebrate the fact that we’re all empowered af, and that’s not changing any time soon.

Jennifer Wagner is a mom, a recovering political hack and the Vice President of Communications for EdChoice, a national nonprofit that supports and promotes universal school choice.