June 27, 2016

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The meaning behind choice

By John Gladden


That word seemed to pop up a lot at the Ohio Statehouse last week, although in entirely different settings.

On March 22, an estimated 1,100 parents, children and school-choice advocates rallied at the Statehouse in support of Gov. John Kasich’s plan to expand alternatives to traditional public schools. It’s an idea endorsed by a number of state lawmakers.

In his two-year budget, Kasich seeks to quadruple to 56,000 the number of vouchers that allow parents to spend on private schools the tax dollars allotted for their child’s public education. The governor also plans to lift the cap on charter schools in Ohio, as well as give parents and teachers the power to take over traditional schools and turn them into charter schools.

“We believe parents should have options,” said Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, addressing the crowd of school-choice supporters.

(By the way, Ohio’s current budget, signed by Gov. Ted Strickland in 2009: $50.5 billion. Kasich’s proposed budget: $55.5 billion. Reform or redistribution?)

Also last week, the Ohio House Health Committee heard testimony on House Bill 125, which would outlaw abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be medically detected. It would be the most restrictive law on abortion in the United States.

As such, lawmakers are concerned with writing a bill strong enough to withstand the inevitable legal challenges it will face.

“This bill eliminates a woman’s right to choose,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

I’m not comparing vouchers and abortion, only considering how the word “choice” is used in each context. The two are vastly different issues, but the rhetorical implication is the same: Choice is a good thing, right? How can any reasonable person be against something good? Therefore our argument is the better argument.

In that way, “choice” is one of the shiny badges we put on things to cast them in positive light. In fact, it almost becomes a euphemism, the way we call missiles “Peacekeepers.” Government spending becomes an “investment.” Investigators say sudden acceleration in Toyotas was caused not by “driver error,” but by “misapplication” of the gas pedal.

The very different factions who craft arguments invoking the word “choice” might agree on at least one point: Choices have consequences.

Any way you look at it, abortion destroys a human life or the potential for a human life. The word “choice” makes it sound like a positive thing, prettying up the reality of what is taking place. Choices usually have consequences that extend far beyond the one who makes them.

On the separate issue of school choice, supporters articulate the benefits for themselves, but not the impact on others. Parents who pull their child’s funding from their local school to spend elsewhere are making the choice they believe is right for their family. But what of those left behind?

Say you rent a $4,000-per-month office building along with three associates, each of you contributing $1,000 per month. If you leave to join a new enterprise, taking your $1,000 with you, the rent for the office building is still $4,000. By and large, the same expenses are still there, borne by fewer people.

If families pull their kids and tax dollars out of their local schools, the buildings don’t shrink. They need the same amount of heat and electricity and upkeep, but there’s less money to pay those bills. The staff is still there, providing mostly the same services to those who remain, but with fewer resources. Choice impacts them.

It’s not the way to fix the few public school districts that are broken and it’s not fair to the majority of public schools that do their jobs well. If we are dissatisfied with our local police department or road crew, no one’s going to suggest legislation that would give us the choice to pull our tax dollars and start our own police force, or send the money off to a highway department we like better.

That’s not how public systems are designed to work.

Americans value choice. We believe it to be our birthright as free citizens. And so it is. Law-abiding choice may be a right, but it is also a responsibility.

Contact John Gladden at gladden@frontier.com or follow him on Twitter at @thatjohngladden.

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