A billionaire is making her rounds across the state to diminish the merit of public schools and introduce charters\r\nArticle published by: Nate Martin, Planet Jackson Hole.\r\n\r\nJACKSON HOLE, WY \u2013 Right-wing billionaires like the Koch Brothers have been\u00a0pushing \u201cschool choice\u201d for years. The movement seeks to defund and dismantle traditional public education and replace it with a model that, in some combination, relies on charter schools, vouchers, religious schools, homeschooling, and other decentralized, mainly private institutions to educate our youth.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nSusan Gore wants to privatize education in Wyoming. But when some of those schools fail, students would fail with them, Nate Martin argues. (Wyoming Liberty Group)\r\n\r\n\r\nBetsy DeVos, a right-wing billionaire and the U.S. Secretary of Education, and\u00a0Foster Friess, a right-wing billionaire running a strong campaign for Wyoming governor\u2014are both staunch school choice proponents. That has perhaps emboldened another right-wing billionaire to introduce the movement to the Cowboy State.\r\n\r\nSusan Gore, heiress to the vast Gore-Tex fortune, is\u00a0the founder of the Wyoming Liberty Group. The think tank promotes policies to defund and otherwise break down public services and infrastructure in Wyoming, notably schools and education. It\u2019s no coincidence that the decade-old organization\u2019s existence has overlapped with a sharp rightward shift in state politics.\r\n\r\nOn Tuesday, the WLG launched the first installment of a seven-part event series called \u201cParents Unite!\u201d It was the public debut of the school choice movement in Wyoming. Speaking to an audience at the Cheyenne public library (and\u00a0livestreamed on Facebook), Gore explained that \u201cParents Unite!\u201d is the WLG\u2019s way of offering institutional support and resources for Wyoming parents who want to advocate for school choice\u2014unsurprisingly, the billionaire-backed think tank wants to put parents\u2019 faces and voices at the front of the fight.\r\n\r\nGore\u2019s talk began the same way all talks about school choice do: by disparaging public schools. They\u2019re not teaching kids to read, Gore claimed, despite her own acknowledgement that Wyoming\u2019s reading scores\u00a0far surpass the national average. Plus, she said, there\u2019s not enough discipline in public schools\u2014kids are running wild.\r\n\r\nGore lavished praise on Nick Avila, who recently came to Cheyenne to help launch the city\u2019s single charter school, Poder Academy. Gore said that she admired Avila\u2019s disciplinarian approach to education. This is despite the fact that Poder Academy\u2019s founder (and Avila\u2019s boss), Marcos Martinez, recently\u00a0fled Colorado\u00a0after resigning as director of a charter school there in the face of widespread\u00a0abuse complaints.\r\n\r\nSchool choice advocates call for various specific outcomes. But the general gist is that school systems should operate according to free-market principles. Under school choice, anyone can start and run a school, and parents have the option to pick where to send their kids. Official charter schools receive public funding and donor support, but \u201cbad\u201d schools are punished with budget cuts. This punishment is meant to incentivize \u201cbad\u201d schools to do better\u2014but of course that doesn\u2019t work. DeVos memorably\u00a0failed to explain\u00a0in a\u00a060 Minutes\u00a0interview why people should support school choice as academic performance has crumbled in Michigan, her home state, since the system was introduced.\r\n\r\nGore said parents face two problems when it comes to Wyoming schools. First, our pesky state constitution says that Wyoming shall have \u201ca complete and uniform system of public education.\u201d \u00a0This prevents us from having the hodgepodge of wonky \u201cindividualized\u201d institutions that charter school systems promote\u2014Avila\u2019s former school, for instance, focused on tennis and chess.\r\n\r\nThe second problem Gore described is at the heart of the \u201cschool choice\u201d movement: public schools can\u2019t teach Christian education.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIn states that have adopted \u201cschool choice,\u201d religious private schools receive what they have long coveted: taxpayer funding. Vice President Pence led the way in bringing \u201cschool choice\u201d to Indiana while he was governor. As a result, private Christian schools there\u00a0received upwards of $145 millionlast year in state financing.\r\n\r\nGore and the \u201cschool choice\u201d crowd argue that depriving Christian schools of public funding is discriminatory because in a way, secularism is its own religion.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe question is: Is a secular education neutral?\u201d Gore said. \u201cAnd my opinion is no, it\u2019s not\u2014it\u2019s corrosive. It\u2019s another worldview. But somehow it has taken over our schools.\u201d\r\n\r\nSince Wyoming doesn\u2019t fund religious education, 39 of the state\u2019s 41 private schools are Christian, Gore said. Under school choice, these schools would receive taxpayer funding and be open to more students.\r\n\r\nThe problem with school choice is not simply that any yahoo with money can start and run a school, hire unqualified people to teach, and run their operation like a boot camp. I lived in New Orleans for five years after Hurricane Katrina and saw the rise of the nation\u2019s first all-charter school district. Some schools were good, but many were not.\r\n\r\nThe real problem is that school choice undercuts public school systems that, by design, strive to provide quality education to\u00a0all students. School choice creates a businesslike environment where some schools succeed while others fail\u2014and the students fail along with them.\r\n\r\nSchools that receive public funding under school choice are ostensibly\u00a0open to all students through lotteries, but there are obvious ways to game the system. Some students will inevitably only have access to the \u201cbad\u201d schools. For them, a choice doesn\u2019t help much.\r\n\r\nYou can bet none of Gore\u2019s kin would be among this group.