Charter and voucher schools, while touted as panaceas for the “sorry state” of America’s education system, don’t do any better than public schools when based on similar populations of students. In fact, the so-called “sorry state” of our public education system is pretty darn good when you realize that we work to educate everyone who walks in our public school doors.
Let me repeat that in no uncertain terms – America’s public schools are NOT failing. They are among the best in the world. Really!
We have made a commitment to every single child regardless of what their parents can afford to pay, regardless of their access to transportation, regardless of whether they can afford uniforms, lunch or even if they have a home. Heck! We even provide education to children who are here illegally.
Now is a good time to remind ourselves of that fact…especially after the difficult experience of “pandemic education” (or are we still “during?”).
We should also remember that private, voucher schools don’t have to accept everyone. They can pick and choose who gets to attend their school. In Indiana, more than 95% of our voucher schools are run by religious organizations. They can refuse service to religious “others”, low achievers, and students with special needs.
And they can do all that while still filling their sectarian wallets with your money…and my money…which, in the past, had been earmarked for public schools, for the common good.
In other words, when supporters say that they need vouchers so they can “choose” private schools, what they mean is, they’ll take our public education tax dollars and let private, religious schools “choose” which students get to attend. Your children might be able to attend because they’re white, they have high test scores, or they belong to the same religion. Someone else’s children, on the other hand, might not be able to attend because they are not the same religion, not white, or are more expensive to teach because they have some high-cost learning need.
Public education reflects society. The so-called “sorry state” of public education is not in our schools, it’s in our commitment to the support of the public good.
Schools in traditionally operated school districts are not allowed to violate Maine’s anti-discrimination laws, but a school run privately by a religious organization may be able to under such a ruling. The Supreme Court has in recent years laid the legal groundwork for courts to require authorizers of charter schools to allow religious organizations to be granted charters without regard to their religious status.
“The Supreme Court is just a few small steps away from transforming every charter school law in the U.S. into a private-school voucher policy,” [Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s School of Education] writes. “Further, the nation may be facing a future of religious organizations proselytizing through charter schools that have been freed from obeying anti-discrimination laws — with LGBTQ+ community members being the most likely victims.”
The particulars of the case before the Supreme Court underscore why we need to prioritize public education. When a state, Maine in this case, doesn’t support a system of public education (in direct violation of their state constitution), substituting private, religious schools, does not necessarily support the common good.
PAUL WELLSTONE ON EDUCATION
The late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone spoke to the concept of the common good when he said…(emphasis added)
That all citizens will be given an equal start through a sound education is one of the most basic, promised rights of our democracy. Our chronic refusal as a nation to guarantee that right for all children, including poor children, is a national disgrace. It is rooted in a kind of moral blindness, or at least a failure of moral imagination, that we do not see that meeting the most basic needs of so many of our children condemns them to lives and futures of frustration, chronic underachievement, poverty, crime and violence. It is a failure which threatens our future as a nation of citizens called to a common purpose, allied with one another in a common enterprise, tied to one another by a common bond. — 3/31/2000
The primary mission of public schools is not to teach individual students what their parents want them to learn. It’s to prepare the next generation for the task of running our society. It’s for the benefit of all of us…the common good.