School Choice: a Matter of Justice

Group of teenagers sitting in classroom with raised hands.By Carol Rudie

When I saw the address of the school—in the heart of Minneapolis—where I was to be speaking, I knew that I was in for an interesting experience. My research told me that my audience would be very diverse.

My expectations were met. The parents who sat in the circle of folding chairs included members of several ethnic groups. Each appeared to be in varying difficult personal and economic situations. The principal had the intense look of somebody leading a school that balanced on an extremely thin financial edge.

Given my experience in the non-government school world, I was familiar with that thin edge. But this school had a harder mission than many. This school enrolled students who could not pay the usual cost of education that translates into “tuition.” In fact, these families couldn’t contribute anything close to that cost.

Yet, parent after parent testified to the necessity of having their child in this educational space. Getting away from drugs, gangs, and violence, and into a safe place that nurtured good education summarized their reasons. These parents desperately wanted the school to be part of their lives.

So I asked the principal, “Where do you find the funding for these students?” His weary response: “For every student we admit, I have to go out and find a donor.”

What is wrong with this scenario? Why would this school—any school—dedicated to educating the children lost in the city’s systems have to send its lead educator out to hunt for funding? Shouldn’t those children, those parents, that school have an easier time with the fiscal needs?

Of course they should. But the way education is funded in Minnesota and the US does not allow for just distribution of public money. Our system of public support for education discriminates unjustly against legitimate family choices as to the best place for its children’s schooling . The result is that children are not granted equal access to educational opportunity.

Who suffers most because of this injustice? Always the poorest and most vulnerable. The poorest families can’t move to wealthy districts, can’t pay tuition, can’t handle transportation difficulties.

NSCW_Logo_HorizontalFor several decades already, Christian schools, parents, and communities have involved themselves in these issues, working together to open both the legal and funding structures to greater justice. National School Choice Week, January 25-31, shines a spotlight on continuing efforts toward that goal. Today’s coalition of parents and schools is holding a special informational event on Tuesday, January 27, from 9 to 12 at St. Croix Lutheran School in West St. Paul. You are invited.

One mother at the meeting I attended said to me, “I took my son from the school down the street and walked him to this place. He could not survive without this school. I am so thankful.”

I am too. And I’d like every family in Minnesota to be able to freely find the best school for its children’s educational needs.

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Carol Veldman Rudie is a longtime supporter of school choice, parent of two Christian school graduates, and a current board member of Calvin Christian School.

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