Saturday, October 13, 2012

NPR on Romney and vouchers

NPR had a piece this morning discussing Governor Romney's support of vouchers as well as a campaign in which everyone loves "school choice." The point Rick Hess makes on vouchers is important:
Hess says that even if all of those federal dollars come in a backpack with the kid, it would amount to about $2,500 to $3,000 per child. He argues that's just not enough money to entice good schools, especially in the suburbs, to take low-income kids from struggling, inner-city schools.
Nor, of course, is that even close to tuition at a private school.
This is part of a larger national "school choice" push. Usually, that is code for vouchers, 'though this presidential administration has been using it for charter schools. In either case, it represents a fundamental reworking of what we're doing when we publicly fund education.
A democracy necessitates an educated citizenry. If everyone gets a say in who runs things, everyone needs to be able to have some understanding of basic science, economics, history, and so forth, and of course, everyone needs a measure of basic literacy. In order to continue to have a democracy, you need to continue to educate the next generation.
What you are doing is creating your next generation of voters.
(This is partly why, by the way, the discussions over science get so heated. If we educate the next generation on what we're actually doing to the Earth's climate, they may decide to do something about it.)
Thus we all have an interest in the education of children, and so we are all responsible for funding it. At the same time, however, we have a measure of oversight of that education. That's why we elect school boards (as well as representatives and senators and governors). The curriculum they are learning, as well as the circumstances in which they learn it, matters to all of us, whether we have children at all or children in public education.
If you give the public funds away to private schools or to charter schools, you are giving to entities that do not have public accountability. Public accountability isn't just "we can close you if your test scores are lousy." It means your budget books are open. It means your hiring processes are in line with state and federal laws (no exceptions). It means your curriculum is open to public debate and process.
None of which is true for these other systems.
We as Americans have a fundamental interest in the education of the next generation. School choice, when used this way, prevents us from pursuing that interest and maintaining responsibility for the continuation of democracy.
There's no reason for this to be in conflict with parents pursuing what is best for their child. We need, however, not to lose sight of the reason for which we have a public education system in the first place.

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