Would Mesa del Sol Charter School Harm Poor Students?

The Rio Grande Foundation and Moises Venegas have worked together on education choice issues in the past. Most recently, we were part of a loose coalition on behalf of education tax credits. While we consistently approach the education issue from a pro-freedom perspective, Venegas, particularly in an article “Poorer Students Lost in Rush to Create Mesa del Sol Charter,” that appeared on the opinion pages of the Albuquerque Journal on Sunday, April 6, approaches the issue from a very different perspective and comes to some conclusions contrary to the promotion of choice.
First and foremost, Mesa del Sol is a taxpayer-subsidized development now taking shape south of Albuquerque’s Sunport. Recently, the developers behind the project requested to build a charter school as part of the development.
Venegas’s argument is a bit bizarre in that he claims that wealthy people “already have school choice if they are willing to spend $10,000 to $16,000” to send their kid to an expensive private school or they can move to an area with better schools. While this is technically a choice, these are not good choices especially when one considers that these people are already paying thousands of dollars annually in taxes for the failing government schools.
Venegas furthers the class/wealth issue by arguing that Mesa del Sol’s application for a charter is another means of the wealthy segregating themselves at the expense of poorer students. This argument boggles the mind. Sure, wealthy people (like their poorer counterparts) want what is best for their children, particularly when it comes to education. While Mesa del Sol may indeed be targeted at high-end residents, even relatively wealthy people will struggle mightily to pay $10-$15k annually per child in private school tuition. It would seem that building a charter school for the community is eminently sensible.
The fact is that true school choice will benefit all New Mexicans whether they are wealthy, poor, or in between. After all, competition drives improvement and cost reductions in all products whether they be cars, televisions, or education. Charter schools (and tax credits or even vouchers) are not the be-all, end-all when it comes to improving educational quality through choice, but they would be a big help. Rather than tearing down certain attempts to build alternatives to the failed government schools, Venegas and others should let 1,000 flowers bloom and bring choice to all children.