Public schools are best place to invest tax dollars

Now that a billionaire with no experience in the classroom and a belief that vouchers and “school choice” (read charter schools) are a vehicle “for expanding God’s kingdom” is in charge of our U.S. Department of Education, what can we expect?

She has said that she hasn’t ruled out privatizing the entire department. She holds up Indiana as a model, a state that not only gave us Vice President Mike Pence, but sends more than $135 million in tax dollars to private/charter schools, almost all of which are religious.

The Constitution has something to say about that, but we don’t know how far new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos can go toward her goal of diverting public money into religious charter schools.

While it’s true that the Constitution doesn’t say anything specific about education, it does start out with its intent to “promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

That sounds like strong support for citizens and their families to become active, intelligent participants in public life. Isn’t education the best way to do that?

It also says in the First Amendment that Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” If you get that far, please keep reading to see what it says about speech, press, assembly and petitioning the government for grievances.

You might find that interesting as well. And if you can read and think, thank a teacher.

What most of us don’t consider are the differences between public and charter schools.

Public schools are part of our commons. They are run by elected boards of education, which decide on school leaders, standards for teachers and their salaries based on training and experience and curriculum. They must accept all students, regardless of the student’s social, financial, family or educational situation.

They must provide for a wide range of programs, including free lunch/breakfast for needy students, equal treatment and equal facilities — all hard-won ideals.

They also have strong staff unions to protect their job situations and security, not a bad thing for any worker. Since public schools are funded with public money, we have a say in pretty much everything that happens. This seems like a good idea.
Charter schools have no public school boards. Salaries for staff and management are set by those who run it. There are no unions, no public control of the curriculum and no requirement for certified teachers. They can select the students they want.

They are not required to offer federal lunch or breakfast programs, and can reject or expel students at will. Charters are granted for a limited number of years and are managed by non-profit groups, mostly religious in nature. They are run like businesses, not public services.

Those charter schools that have failed say that they would have succeeded if only they had access to public funds. This is a familiar complaint. But when public schools make it, they are told that throwing money at them won’t help.

The plain fact is that charter schools are competing with public schools for the same pot of money.

And since education is a zero-sum game, if one type of school gets funding, the difference comes from the other type of school.

If you believe, as many do, that public schools are not factories and children are not widgets, then the business model cannot be used when outcomes are measured.

All children need to be educated the best we can by the best teachers we can find in the best facilities we can put together. Einstein was right — often the things you can’t count are the only things that count, and the things you can count don’t really count.

In 2007, it was estimated the national education budget was over $1 trillion. Now there’s a pot of money to get your hands on.

Considering what is at stake — the future of our nation— doesn’t it seem reasonable to go with the best for as many as possible?

Karen Cookson of Sharon Springs is a former member of the Sharon Springs Central School Board of Education, and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette Opinion page.

Categories: Opinion

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