Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Public Education Under Attack

The Richmond Times-Dispatch would not publish this letter I wrote. They said it was too long. Well, I figure that I know a place to publish it where being too long is never a consideration. Here it is, beloved reader.


I must take issue with your support of Republican Delegate Christopher Saxman’s creation of School Choice Virginia in your July 25 lead editorial. Although you portray school choice as a way to help poor people choose their schools, the fact is that School Choice Virginia, to the extent it is successful, will significantly weaken Virginia’s public education system by diverting tax dollars to other education providers.

Regardless of the rhetoric of Delegate Saxman, the true nature of School Choice Virginia is clear from the membership of its board of directors. According to Tyler Whitney’s article in the July 23 Times-Dispatch, the board will include representatives of “church schools, the Virginia Catholic Conference, home schoolers and the Family Foundation of Virginia.” None of these are exactly supporters of public education. Church schools and home schoolers are participating in School Choice Virginia because they want a slice of the public education money pie. They are not altruistic supporters of public education. The slice of the pie they are trying to get will be at the expense of our public schools.

The Virginia Catholic Conference “represents the public-policy interests of the Commonwealth's Catholic bishops and their two dioceses.” It engages in advocacy on issues of respect for life, social justice and education and family life. The advocacy done by the Virginia Catholic Conference is important in the continuing advancement of the Commonwealth. However, in the area of education, the Virginia Catholic Conference’s main goal is to attain public financial support for its parochial schools. Again, the public funding it seeks will reduce the amount of money available for our public schools.

As for the Virginia Family Foundation, its website indicates that its “vision is to establish a Commonwealth of strong families who are guided by faith and protected by a principled government.” The Family Foundation’s five-year plan seeks to 1- Establish Virginia as the most pro-life state in the nation. 2-Protect the institution of traditional marriage. 3-Reinforce the rights of parents to make life-altering decisions in their children’s lives. 4-Limit the undue burden placed on families by state government. 5- Reestablish Virginia as the national model for religious liberty. In the area of education, the Virginia Family Foundation favors tax credits for families “that choose non-public schools.” Attending non-public schools, presumably, will enable parents to raise their children “free from intrusive government involvement.” As in the case of the other supporters of School Choice Virginia, the tax credits that the Virginia Family Foundation seeks will inevitably result in less available funding for public schools.

In your editorial you say that school choice is good for two reasons. First (not in the order you set them out) you say that choice is needed because “different families have different needs.” Certainly that is true, but I’m not sure that “different needs” justify using public funds to support private and religious schools or home schooling. The differing needs of families can be met within our public school system.

I don’t understand the obsession with choice. When I reached school age, my parents had only one choice—enroll me in the local neighborhood school. My neighborhood public schools provided me with a top quality education. When my children reached school age, my wife and I had only one choice—enroll our children in the local neighborhood school. Our neighborhood public schools provided our children with a superior education, which not only allowed them to be admitted to the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia but also prepared them for their successful careers.

Second, you say that choice “would introduce competition where it’s needed most.” Presumably, you agree with the statement by Kevin P. Chavous, quoted in Tyler Whitney’s article, that competition “will force the [public school] system to be all it can be.” Proponents of school choice constantly argue that competition will make public schools better. However, has anybody demonstrated that competition from private or parochial schools and from home schooling actually improves public school performance? Sometimes competition does not strengthen competitors. Sometimes, especially if one of the competitors has an unfair advantage, it results in the other competitor simply dying. Diverting funds to private or parochial schools to get public schools to perform better is like the outmoded medical practice of bleeding the patient. Bleeding may or not have cured the disease, but it nearly always managed to kill the patient.

We cannot fix our education system by paying parents to choose options other than public schools for their child’s education. The key to providing a first-class education to all our children is to involve the entire community—parents as well as those without school-age children, teachers, the business and academic communities, faith-based and civic groups—in making our neighborhood public schools work. Let’s use our public dollars to support and perfect what the Virginia Constitution calls for—“a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth.”


JTylerBallance said...

First, lets restore the citizens God given right to freely associate with whomever they please.

We must repeal the misnamed, Fair Housing Act so that our neighborhoods and housing prices can stabilize. With stable neighborhoods, we might again have something like a neighborhood school to attend.

Next, we need real education reform where the federal and state governments are kicked out of the schools and local school boards regain full authority over how their schools are run. When schools across the South again begin each day with the Lord's Prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of God Bless America, then you won't have to worry about "competition" from the Catholics or home schoolers.

Kim Bridges said...

Here's how I consider the school choice issue. If choice is what families want, then it must be true choice; that means that all schools with public funding must 1) operate within the same accountability structures through common standards, testing, and public reporting of results and 2) accept all students regardless of attributes or abilities, just as the public schools do. If other school programs can do both of those things, then let them have at it.

So, with that perspective in mind, here's another question for dialogue: Are there private schools that are willing to 1) meet the same accountability/reporting standards as public schools and 2) accept and transport any interested students, including those with limited home/community support, low admissions scores, and poor grades to attend along with high achieving and well-supported students in order to receive public funding?

Anonymous said...

BRAVO Maven!

Really now! At what point does deciding weather or not kids are saying the lords prayer have anything to do with getting kids to go and stay in school? There is no competition here. Money is not being withheld due to prayer, or lack there of. People that attend regular church services are in a MINORITY in the United States. They just protest very loud.

Bottom line. We need money for PUBLIC schools. Is "home" schooling public? Is "private" school public? When did home/ private become synonymous with PUBLIC? Giving taxpayer money to separate schools based on religion/ ethnic origin/ income is segregation at its finest.

When is the last time anyone refused to pay taxes for a PUBLIC park? Do you go to the park everyday? Probably not; however, knowing a park is nearby with usable, clean, and safe facilities to be used by all is a comfort to most taxpayers. Does the PUBLIC park have a direct impact on local crime rates or the future of our (educated) voters? (I'm not picking on public parks here, just using as a reference for PUBLIC)

I'm appalled that School Choice Virginia isn’t represented by the people current USING the system.

gray said...

I'm a firm believer of separation of church and state and not a dime of taxpayer money should go towards religious organizations of any kind. If you want a religious education for your child then you need to pay for it.

Kim Bridges, I want to add to your list students with learning, mental, or physical disabilities because we all know that many private schools will not accept these students. And how about students with gay parents?

We do not want to give the members of School Choice Virginia any power. Groups like the Family Foundation of Virginia work on taking the rights away from the people that don't believe like them. Right wing fundamentalists blame the poor for being poor. Rarely will you hear them utter the Beatitudes or tell the story of the Good Samaritan.

Now the Catholic schools are a different story and having had attended them for several years, I could give a long list on why the state should not fund them but now I'm out of time and I must go.

gray said...

Read this article too

Turns out that Keith West is a member of School Choice Virginia too. So now we have a ultra conservative on school board wanting to dismantle public education. Keith you are now hanging out with a bad crowd. You know that the Family Foundation of Virginia hates gays, women, and poor folk. They constantly attack Plan Parenthood who offers medical services to the poor.

James Young said...

Well, maybe it's the fact that you couldn't even get Ty WhitLey's (H-SC '61) name right.

Or maybe it's the fact that you're simply lying ("the public funding it seeks will reduce the amount of money available for our public schools"). No school choice proposal with which I am familiar would provide more than half the average per pupil expenditures to parents to educate their children in private schools, thus freeing up the other half to throw at more government education spending on a per capita basis. And while the people you identify may not be "altruistic supporters of public education," neither are the fiercest "defenders" of public (read: government-controlled).

The real question is whether your primary concern is education, or government-controlled education. Your parroting of far-Left talking points demonstrate that your primary concern is, beyond question, the latter.