November 6, 2008 10:54AM

How “Public” Schools Serve the “Public” Interest

Public schools are uniquely capable of serving the public interest. Or so we are told. But here is a story from Greenville South Carolina that makes this belief a tad difficult to accept. It seems that “principals of Greenville County middle schools have been told not to allow charter high school officials inside their schools to tell students about their dual college credit programs, according to the chairman of the school board.”

LaBarbara Sampson, the district’s director of guidance programs, e‐​mailed the district’s counselors telling them that “our schools are not to be used for the recruitment efforts of the charter schools.… If a parent needs/​wants to find out about a particular charter school, they can get all the information on that school from the school’s Web site.”

Now, if the public schools were serving the public interest, you’d think they’d want every student to be as well informed as possible about all their educational options, no? So how do we explain Greenville’s decision to suppress the charter option? Actually, it’s easy. We just replace the word “public” in the first sentence of this post with the word “government.”

Government schools are uniquely capable of serving the government interest.

The people who work in and run our district school systems are just like you and me. They are guided to a great extent by their own and their families’ interests. If they think charter schools are better, and will lure away many of their prospective students, they fear that their own jobs will be put in jeopardy. So they work to protect those jobs by making it more difficult for their students to find out about the charter school alternative.

If we really want to serve the public interest, we will stop assigning children to government schools based on where they live, and ensure that all families can easily choose from among a variety of public and private educational options. That way, no entrenched monopolist will be able to put its own interests ahead of childrens’ interests, as Greenville’s school district is currently doing.