Ep 296: Redefining Public Education

Cara Fitzpatrick, author of The Death of Public School, joins us to discuss the history and implications of school choice in America. We delve into how school vouchers, charter schools, and education savings accounts redefine public education.

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Full Show Notes

The structure and definition of public education in America are changing rapidly. With more states adopting programs that allow parents to divert public funds to private and charter schools, the idea of what constitutes a public education is being fundamentally reexamined. These changes have far-reaching implications for our communities, teachers, and children.

To explore this critical topic, we’re joined by Cara Fitzpatrick, editor at Chalkbeat and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Cara’s deep dive into the origins and effects of school choice is encapsulated in her book, The Death of Public School. Her work offers a comprehensive look at how we've arrived at the current state of education and what it means for the future.

Origins of School Choice

Cara traces the beginnings of school choice back to Florida, a significant testing ground for charter schools and voucher systems. The concept hinges on the principle that public money should follow the student, whether they attend a public, private, or charter school. This notion became particularly contentious with the introduction of education savings accounts, offering unprecedented flexibility in how public funds can be utilized for a student’s education.

Navigating the Varieties of School Choice

School choice programs can take various forms, such as school vouchers and charter schools. While charter schools operate with public funding but independent management, vouchers allow parents to use public money for private school tuition, including religious institutions. Cara breaks down these different models, highlighting the nuances and controversies associated with each.

Historical Context and Its Implications

Understanding the history of public education helps contextualize today’s debates. From the vision of early American leaders like Thomas Jefferson to the contentious battles over school integration in the 1950s, Cara illustrates how the definition of public education has evolved. She emphasizes that this isn't just a new debate but a complex issue with roots in America's early history.

Where Are We Now?

School choice has grown significantly, with programs now available in over half of the states. However, this growth hasn’t come without challenges. Cara explains how the initial waves of school choice, such as those in the 1950s used to resist desegregation, differ significantly from today’s initiatives. She also addresses the legal battles that have shaped the current landscape, including key Supreme Court decisions that have supported the use of public funds for religious education under specific conditions.

Future of Public Education

The future of public education is uncertain but seemingly headed towards more choice and less traditional public schooling. As Cara discusses, the recent push towards universal programs – accessible to all students regardless of income or need – indicates a shift supported by current political and judicial climates. 

In the Episode…

In our conversation with Cara, we explore various other topics, including:
- The economic arguments for and against school choice
- The potential for discrimination within choice programs
- The role of competition in improving public schools
- Historical and contemporary court rulings impacting school choice
- Predicting the future landscape of American public education

Cara’s deep research and thoughtful insights offer a balanced view on a complex issue. For a more detailed understanding, grab a copy of her book, The Death of Public School, and consider attending local school board meetings to stay engaged with how these changes might affect your community.

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Cara Fitzpatrick
Cara Fitzpatrick
Editor @Chalkbeat. Author of “The Death of Public School: How Conservatives Won the War Over Education in America.”
Ep 296: Redefining Public Education
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