In case you missed it, the beleaguered Alabama Education Association does not like public school choice. The AEA has referred to the Alabama Accountability Act, which created a tax credit scholarship program in the state, as part of a “war on public education by the privatizers and those who wish to destroy public education and public educators.”

Most of the American public-education establishment tends to despise charter schools, vouchers, education tax credits and a wide variety of education programs that create more education alternatives with public dollars. They are so upset that they have declared war.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten thinks the emergence of education as a top political issue is largely on account of public reaction to recent “market-based reforms, the top-down reforms, the testing and sanctioning.”

Weingarten has one perspective, but I am willing to bet that more than a few Americans are taking a closer look at education because our nation is falling behind. That is not due to recent reforms, but rather, a result of a historical lack of them.

The problem with the “war on public education” is that the emphasis is more on “public” than it is on “education.” The opposition to education reform is focused on preserving an established public system rather than opening up access to different ways of educating children.

Notice the use of the word “different.” I am a huge fan of school-choice programs, because they give parents options, not because they are, by their nature, superior.

We know that Alabama has some fantastic public schools and some that are failing the children who attend. Private schools run the gamut as well. The main difference is that a private school with a 70 percent graduation rate probably will not be around too long.

We are going to spend tax dollars, and a lot of them, on public education. The bigger question is whether those funds are dedicated to empowering parents to effectively educate their children or funding a baseline public education system.

The answer is between the proverbial trenches. Traditional public education has tremendous merit because it provides a system of education for everyone. It creates an important barrier to an uneducated society and a true safety net for children whose parents refuse to engage in their education. In Alabama, we need to learn and repeat the successes of our best public schools, particularly our high-poverty, high-performing Torchbearer Schools.

At the same time, parents should have public options for their children. If parents believe a charter or private school is a better choice for their child, why should they be prevented from using public resources to pursue that option? Prior to school-choice programs, pursuing such options was limited to those wealthy enough pay for them on top of their tax bill. If the state’s interest in having educated citizens is met, where that education is received should be irrelevant. Why not create more options for the average Alabamian?

In politics, declaring an ideological “war” is particularly fashionable, but it is also destructive if it means that people feel so pinned down in their respective trenches that they never take the time to stick their heads up and realize no one is shooting at them.

Alabama needs a strong traditional public education system, but it also needs publicly-supported education alternatives. We can either be mired in a “war on public education,” or we can be open to all options that could better educate children in Alabama.

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