My husband and I were discussing the role that education plays in the political and social realms of our society. It is clear that education often plays the role of cornerstone, battle field, or even a scapegoat in American culture. As an educator, I do not necessarily think this is a detrimental perspective. It places a heavy burden and responsibility and on the education system, and rightly so. The choices we make for our schools today, shape where our country will be in 20, 30, 40 years in the future. If we fully equip our students to compete in the world of the future, America will continue to enjoy its place of power. Alternatively, if we fail to prepare our students, our future citizens will watch their jobs, ideas, and finances move to foreign countries. You see, education is not simply an issue for those with a soft-spot for kids, it is not simply about ethical treatment of those who do not have a political voice of their own; education causes a ripple effect in all the pillars of our society’s future.
Recently, there has been some talk about school vouchers. Some of you may be familiar with the idea. Basically, the concept works like this… currently, school districts have a set amount of funds per head on students each year. Let’s say for example that amount is $1,500. This money is divided up in resources such as supplies, buildings, and teachers. This money is determined mostly by the property taxes from homes in the district. Of course, this is anything but a perfect system; since property taxes determine per pupil spending in the district, students who live in areas with low property values (and overall low socio-economic status) tend to have under funded schools. Students from wealthy neighborhoods have the advantage of better funded schools. Over time this system creates an education gap between the lower and upper classes. Students who receive better education, especially one that makes them a competitive candidate for top colleges, in turn get better jobs. They will likely get even better jobs than those of their parents. Meanwhile the students who attend our under funded schools get less education and possibly even less lucrative jobs than their parents. Thus, slowly but surely the gap increases over time as each generation continues in this pattern. While this current system is deeply flawed, the alternative school vouchers do not fix this problem, in fact they actually help the education gap widen faster and with more ferocity.
An education voucher would take the per pupil spending (like our example of $1,500) and give it directly to the guardians of students so that they can use this money to send their student to any school they wish. Districts will not determine where the student attends school. Sounds like a good idea, right? If the district borderlines are causing some of the funding issues, let’s ditch ‘em! It’s not that easy…. When upper class parents have an extra $1,500 per year in hand and no restrictions on where to send their kids to school, where do you think they will send them? These upper class parents are typically well educated themselves and will enroll their students in the best private schools. The voucher system allows government funds to be used in any way the parents see fit, yes, including private schools. Now, parents who do not have extra cash to add to their vouchers will send their kids to the public school that costs exactly that of amount given by their government. As more and more upper class parents pull their kids out of public school, the funding for the public schools will decrease. In essence, it will privatize education. The public schools will have low attendance numbers and therefore very low funding. The education of students in lower classes will receive lower and lower quality education. The lower class will get poorer and poorer with each graduating class. This has proven to be the result in many countries around the world that utilize this kind of fund allocation. How many times have you heard from someone outside the country that, “Nobody goes to public school where I’m from. Except the extremely poor.”
Do we not believe in the American dream? That all citizens can achieve success, happiness, and wealth? If we really want education the cornerstone of our society, we have to live up to that responsibility. Does our country not believe in providing equal opportunities for this success? Then we ought to invest in the foundation of a strong society and aide the public education system. Education has the capacity to change the shape of our people, so let’s act like we want that to happen.
In the end, although our current distribution of funds into education is far from perfect, there is still opportunity to aide in the improvement of this system. One of the changes you can make TODAY is to VOTE! If there is a mill levy on your ballot, VOTE yes! If there are other funding issues on your ballot for schools, vote YES! And if there is a candidate running for office who is pushing “school vouchers” as their education plan, for the love of Pete…. see the candidate for what they truly are, an opponent to public education. Candidates who endorse school vouchers are shooting the future American citizens in the foot. The future American citizens will have no middle class to sustain them, America as we know it: a powerhouse of the world, will no longer exist. Furthermore, politicians who propose bills to help “standardize” education but do nothing to provide funding to carry out these bills should never be followed. These politicians need to take a serious look at the problem from within the schools, and monitor the repercussions of their plans from within the schools. Politicians who have not set foot in a school since their graduation day, or who haven’t had candid conversations with teachers have no business instating educational policies.
A few side notes on my own personal ballot…. I am a voter in the Cherry Creek area of Colorado. I firmly endorse issues 3A and 3B, Amendment 59, and Obama. Thank you for spending the time to read my thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment or click a response.
Monday, November 03, 2008