Constituencies for Reform

Several broad groups in our society are in favor of family choice in education, and if brought together, their energies can be mobilized and channeled behind a specific reform agenda.


The business community has a vital stake in the effectiveness of our educa­tional system because it must bear the costs of retraining people who leave public schools unable to read, write, or perform basic arithmetic. A Conference Board survey of 130 major corporations revealed that nearly two-thirds regard primary and secondary education their number one community affairs concern, up from less than half in 1985. (Associated Press, "Education is Top Concern of Business," Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 12, 1987). A recent poll by North Coast Behavioral Research Group of Cleveland of 1,200 of our nation's major corporations revealed that 64 percent of the human resource officers indicated that high school graduates entering the work force cannot read, write, or reason well. Among business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Indepen­dent Business, there is a general consensus that our competitiveness, our techno­logical inventiveness, as well as our future strength and prosperity are threatened by the present dysfunctional educational infrastructure.

The corporations, small business leaders, church leaders, educators, and others who made up the Detroit Strategic Planning Projects in 1987 said,

The decline of the school system's effectiveness comes, sadly, at a time when the need for sophisticated education is more critical than ever., employers in the burgeoning service industries that will stoke Detroit's economy in the future demand skills that are far more complex. Detroit schools have not met the challenge of refocusing educational priorities for a revitalized and diversified economy. [84]

In light of the recognition of the intractable problems which afflict public schools, the time has come for Detroit's leaders and Detroit's business community to focus attention where it is deserved: upon private schools. Business leaders can make an enormous contribution by:

  1. considering the value of private education;

  2. supporting market based choice options; and

  3. adopting private schools in the inner-city of Detroit which serve poor and low-income students.

Scholarships, grants, and other forms of aid directed to inner city private schools can go a long way towards improving the availability of a good education to a diverse group of poor and low-income students. In return, the supply of well-educated students capable of working in Detroit's growing service sector will rise. [85]


Locked into a degrading system which does violence to their natural aspira­tions of a better life for their children, low-income groups have consistently expressed the strongest interest in parental choice among any group in society. They are the ones who have no choice. Educationally disenfranchised in our society, they stand to benefit most from a system which delivers educational excellence. The poor are forced by law to send their children into the cavernous buildings of the inner city, where a facade of educational activity exists, but which are more aptly described by one observer as nothing more than an institutionalized form of child neglect. Finally, it is the poor who are the helpless recipients of the widespread elitist notion of society that they are too unconcerned and apathetic to benefit from parental choice.

Parents of Students

As demonstrated by many recent polls, parents across the socio-economic spectrum express a deep interest in parental choice. They long to have the opportunity to actively determine what school most suits the needs of their children.

While nationally 11-14 percent of school-aged parents have willingly demon­strated their commitment to parental choice by paying the extra tuition required to send their children to non-public schools, many more parents would choose to follow their example if given some assistance. In a 1981 poll by Newsweek, 23 percent of parents with children in public schools indicated they would most likely transfer their children to non-public schools if they received tax credits of $250 to $500 per year. [86]


Beyond these particular groups in society, the consensus is we are ready for genuine reform. All parents have a deep interest in the education of their children, wanting the very best educational opportunities available. When it becomes clear that a policy of parental choice will result in the improvement of public schools as well, then parents across the ethnic and socio-economic spectrum will join the chorus for change.

Each parent should have the right to remove their child from a school that is either dangerous or lacks quality. No child should be forced to attend such a school. Each responsible parent who finds his or her child in such a situation and has thecapacity to either move to anew neighborhood with a better school or pay the extra tuition for a non-public education can exercise choice. Can we continue to deny to the poor that which we allow the rich and middle class?

Many theoretical concerns will be expressed concerning the problems authentic reform may cause. It is true that problems will arise when parents can choose which school their children will attend; however, we ought not establish a double standard on this issue. Could parental choice result in a worse situation than we have now? A substantial majority of the poor express their preference for parental choice. Shall we deny them that which we reserve unto ourselves in order to preserve "the system"? We must ask ourselves whether we are more interested in maintaining institutions, jobs, and security for employees than in providing justice, hope, and social mobility for all.

The failings of public education are intractable and resistant to traditional reform efforts.[87] Certainly, the risks inherent in fundamental change are well worth taking – especially given the broad advantages associated with such a change. Certainly, we can creatively embrace reform while we recognize that in any system designed by people there will be inadequacies. Let us not allow the uncertainty of choice to prevent us from leaving the current destructive public school monopoly.

While market-based choice will not solve all of Detroit's problems, it seems clear that the current public school monopoly is intolerable. The time has come to move beyond the rhetoric of reform to the reality of choice.

Detroit's future and the future of its people demand that every child, black, white, hispanic, and Asian, rich, and poor be given an opportunity to succeed. The time has come to end the public school system's pathological oppression of the poor by bureaucrats. In our view, market-based choice is more than "mere reform"; it is a panacea.