Vol. 7 No. 2 (2019): Foggy Futures in Education: The Looming Storms of School Choice and Voucher Programs
University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
This special issue, co-edited by I-Fang Lee and Michelle Salazar Perez, titled Foggy Futures in Education: The Looming Storms of School Choice and Voucher Programs, focuses on many key issues facing the provision and visions of education at all levels. As this journal is focused on critical policy studies related to childhood and childhood studies, we note that some articles focus on early childhood while some address research at the high school level. The co-editors in their own work—not presented in this special issue—have focused on school choice and vouchers in the USA as well as in multiple other nations. The philosophy of choice, public or private provision of educational or school-based options is very contentious, but also very important. In early education, throughout the globe, there are debates whether governments should provide publicly funded early education “choices” or “allow” families to privately make choices about whether children are at home or in an early childhood or child care setting. Increasingly, governments are choosing to subsidize or fund early childhood out-of-home child care/early education for children: some countries have a long history of public funding while others are moving slowing from private non-subsidized care by family (most often mothers or other female relatives) to limited or full funding for certain age groups of preschool or kindergarten age children (e.g. Universal pre-Kindergarten programs for four year-olds). At the preschool level through high school levels, options for private education that is publicly funded (charter schools, voucher programs) have increased ---theoretically to allow more families to choose what they want for their children. While the articles in the special issue illustrate the neoliberal philosophical and research background for growth in charter or voucher “choice” schools in various contexts around the world, they also raise questions about the very nature of “choice,” and the construction of public/private itself in making choices. For example, if there are few choices, and the choices are imperfect, or obscured for many families, does this constitute “free choice” or an “open market?” Similarly, if there are no choices but private schools, is this a private choice? Or is it a public choice to not provide government funding for schools or child care programs—especially for some children? There are many questions of great importance involved in the notion of both public and private “choices:”
- Who gets to choose, and who doesn’t have a choice?
- Who decides whether public funding will be used for education/child care at what levels, or for which children and families?
- What are the political, economic, historical and philosophical discourses that frame international, country, or local debates?
- How does a lack of, or decrease of public financing, because of an increase in private choices (possibly publicly funded as in charter or voucher programs) affect public provision of good programs for other children?
- If private options increase with public funding, is this “good” for children, or good for the private sector of the economy; could it be both/and? If there is a growth of private programs, for profit, and a decrease in public provision, is this a “choice” made by a society for its children or is it part of a global movement toward neoliberal capitalism?
- What is “free choice” when choices are severely limited?
- Which children and families benefit, which lose-- from the movement of public funds to private concerns?
There are many other questions we might ask. The editors’ introduction and the five articles that make up this special issue illustrate the critical need for interrogation of these questions, and issues worldwide. Thank you to authors, editors, and all of those who reviewed these articles, and helped with the publication of this journal and special issue.