Blow to Public Education
by Bill Onasch
The Supreme Court ruling allowing the diversion of public money to private and sectarian schools is bad news for the working class. I'll leave aside, for the moment, the not unimportant question of how this affects the relationship of church and state. More urgently it opens a whole new front in the assault on free public education.
The United States was a pioneer in the establishment of free, compulsory public schools. After the adoption of child labor laws every child was required to obtain at least a basic elementary school education and was guaranteed the right to complete high school as well.
This concept remains good. The implementation of the concept has had mixed results at best providing ammunition to those who want schools to be a cash cow for private profits or religious indoctrination—or both.
While every American child has been promised a basic education the quality of this opportunity has been most unequal. Kids in some districts get good schooling allowing them to go on to college, or vocational schools, that are prerequisites for most good jobs. In other districts too many leave school functionally illiterate, limited to a lifetime of low wage work.
The basic source of this inequality is the phony doctrine of "democratic community control." We are told that it would be a bad thing for the federal government to "impose" curricula. Each local school board will have the final say on what is taught. And, in order to maintain this precious community independence, each local school district must raise its own money to pay the bills. This is usually through property tax rates on homes that are—unlike hardly any other tax—subject to voter approval.
Urban sprawl has left behind educational disaster areas in most major cities. With no easy fix available locally to deal with this school crisis many workers make an additional financial sacrifice to send their kids to private or religious schools. It is understandable that they would like some help. The voucher program is aimed at them.
But most cannot afford this option. For them charter schools are offered as salvation. Let's give our tax money to the private sector. They know how to get things done, right?
Privatized schools—such as the Edison chain—have been an academic flop everywhere almost without exception. Those of us in the Kansas City school district—which teeters on desertification—know this first-hand.
We've also seen how "democratic control" of our neighboring state of Kansas school board allowed religious zealots to take charge of the state's curricula and text books. They made national headlines by downgrading the teaching of evolution from science to just one of many possible explanations of life on our planet.
Vouchers and charter schools are a rip-off of public money that threaten the very existence of public education. Public education has not failed. What has failed us is the structure of public education.
Our schools should be teaching the same basic things in every community in the country—urban core and remote suburb alike. Every kid in America should be getting the same financial commitment for education.
To do that we need to collectively, as a nation, take responsibility for the education of our children.
Here is an excerpt from the Labor Party program on education:
Access to Quality Public Education
We are a nation of educational haves and have nots. The rich protect their children in elite private schools while our children suffer in increasingly crowded, dangerous, and under-funded public schools. The rich send their children to the best colleges and universities, while more and more of our children are denied higher education due to rising tuition costs and deep cutbacks in our state universities. This two-tiered educational system must end.
We call for a renewed commitment to high quality public education for all, not voucher systems and other privatization schemes that further reduce resources for our public schools.
We call for:
National financing of all public education (instead of property taxes) so that each child, not just those of the rich, has the resources necessary for a good learning environment.
National legislation and funds to reduce the student-teacher ratio to 15 to 1 in all public schools.
National legislation and funding to extend public schools for pre-K children starting at age 3 on a voluntary basis.
Parent education at public schools to help parents from all backgrounds learn more about how to help their children learn at home.
Free public university and technical education of all kinds for everyone who wants it. Each of us should be able to go to school as far as our abilities can carry us.
Like the GI Bill of Rights, everyone 18 years or over should receive a minimum livable wage for four years when attending a post-secondary educational institution.
This approach is the only effective answer to vouchers and other privatization scams. It is the only way we will guarantee equal, quality, free education for all of society's children.
AFT Response to Voucher Decision
NEA President Bob Chase