Unfortunately for US public education, some parents and politicians seem to think that the Burger King slogan—Have it Your Way—should apply to public schools.
Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos even compared public schools to ten kinds of milk available on supermarket shelves and then demanded, “Shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools?”
Uh, no, they shouldn’t.
By all means, let parents shop around in the private sector, prepared to pay private tuition.
Public education is not the equivalent of a dairy or hamburger chain. Public education is more like the US Postal Service and the Interstate Highway System—part of the essential foundation for the nation’s economy and social well being.
So-called “school choice,” in the form of charter schools and school vouchers, is eating away at that foundation, siphoning tax money intended for the public good into the pockets of commercial entrepreneurs and now, thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling (Carson v. Makin), tax money is permitted to go to religious schools.
In the early years of the Republic, public schools were few and far between, a haphazard mix in which well-to-do white boys along the east coast were the main beneficiaries of what schooling was available. A truly national system of public schools—open to all children—did not become a reality until the second half of the twentieth century.
Even now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, when all children have the right to attend a public school, not all public schools provide the same quality of education to all children. Race, gender, and money still influence access.
Charter schools and vouchers are made to sound alluring—a means to provide children with a way out of poverty and “failing schools.” Unfortunately, the hype does not match the reality. (More on that in other posts.) Instead of abandoning their local schools, parents need to do all they can to transform them into what they should be.
Flee the Doom and Gloom
We all need to resist being brainwashed by the doom-and-gloom headlines that proclaim the sorry state of public education.
Yes, US public education is facing crisis after crisis—effects of the pandemic, calls for privatization, ideological attacks from special interest groups, and lack of funding for poor districts. But draining tax money from the public school system only adds to the current national dysfunction.
The nation’s children—all of them—will determine what kind of country we have in the years to come.
An effective public school system worthy of a nation that sees itself as a beacon to the world cannot be achieved by draining away the tax dollars needed to support it.
Public schools are not businesses intended to offer “consumer choice.” Public schools are a vital component of the structure that underpins good government, economic prosperity and safety for the nation.
Better funding alone won’t solve all the problems, but it’s a vital beginning. Not every building in a district needs to have state-of-the art labs and sports facilities, but they should have the minimum: qualified teachers and a safe, sanitary building provided with basic teaching equipment and adequate support staff.
Instead of abandoning their local schools, parents need to do all they can to transform them into what they should be.
Parents must take elected officials to task, both locally and nationally. Beware of politicians who want to return this country to a time when schools benefitted only a small portion of the population.