Public education is a cornerstone of democracy in the United States. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”
Horace Mann, the “Father of American Education,” explained the role of free, universal public education in a democracy when he said “Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark all is deluge.”
Yet, there are some who would abandon our shared responsibility to prepare each generation for the challenges we encounter as a state and a nation.
While most of us want real results for all students and our communities, some want to serve the few at the expense of the many through school vouchers, sometimes disguised as “tax credits” or “opportunity scholarships.”
So what’s wrong with school vouchers — taxpayer subsidies of private schools?
Some proponents use “choice” as their mantra. But who actually gets to choose? Not the kids or their parents. The private school chooses the kids, not the other way around.
The state of Texas has an obligation to provide a high-quality education to all students, not just the ones a school wants to take.
While the public’s schools belong to the public, private schools do not. They do not have school boards that are elected by the public. Their financial records are not open to the public, nor are their meetings or their student results. No accountability or transparency whatsoever is required.
Surely, any true conservative would demand accountability for the expenditure of public tax dollars.
So, what’s behind the voucher curtain?
Once the curtain is drawn, we find profiteers who see education as a huge market opportunity. Commercialized charter schools and vouchers have become the preferred cause du jour of hedge fund executives. Their agenda is to destroy public schools and replace them with for-profit schools. Where we see children, they see dollar signs.
The public opposes the idea of turning our neighborhood schools into profit centers. Neighborhood schools are part of the glue that holds neighborhoods and communities together.
Undermining support of neighborhood schools rips the very fabric of the community. Dispersing the neighborhood’s children here, there and yonder tears neighborhoods and communities apart.
Strong neighborhood schools plus strong communities equal strong economies. Investing in public education grows the economy. An educated workforce attracts more jobs, higher income and economic opportunity — more than all the tax cuts and corporate subsidies politicians can offer.
Competing and prospering in a knowledge-based economy requires investments in public education that provide opportunity for every student.
While voucher proponents focus on serving the few at the expense of the many, public schools focus on results for all students.
Of the 55 million students in the U.S., nearly 50 million, or 90 percent, attend public schools. Studies show that voucher students do not perform better academically than students in public schools.
So, we come back to the real motive behind school vouchers.
Vouchers are just one more way to withhold state resources from our children, to segregate our children into “haves” and “have-nots,” to use our tax dollars to benefit the profiteers.
In 2011, the Texas Legislature needlessly cut $5.4 billions, $500 per student, from public education. Residents who truly want to help all students must step up.
Speak out against the slow starving of public education that has gone on in Texas too long. Advocate for early childhood education.
Speak out for adequate and equitable funding so that we can provide successful schools for all our children.
The future of our democracy and our economy requires no less.