Monday, July 28, 2008


So the Senator has weighed in on education:
"When a public system fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children." Some parents may opt for a better public school or a charter school; others for a private school. The point, said the Senator, is that "no entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity."
Since when does public money pay for a private choice? Since I include the federal government in his definition of "entrenched bureaucracy," I have to ask where does he get off saying that we should demand that schools with no accountability should be a choice over schools that his entrenched bureaucracy won't let go of? Charters are free of the rules and regulations that tie teachers’ hands in traditional public schools. How about we loosen some of those rules?

Where does choice fail?

(1) Who's the customer? If you take taxes from every person, regardless of whether they have children, then the taxpayer is the customer not the parent. If that money is sent to a public school then I can stand up in School Board meetings, Town Meetings, etc and have my say as to how that money is spent, or misspent. (New football stadium, anyone?) I can vote for or against that budget (and many towns around here did just that). I can run for the School Board and have an even more direct say. If you send my tax dollars to a charter, parochial, or other private school I cannot.

(2) "It's my money, dammit." I pay a couple thousand per year in property taxes (renters do too, it's just part of their rent). For that couple of thousand, I can have as many kids in the school system as my house will hold, whether my own, step-kids, adopted kids, foster kids, extended family. For just two kids, I would pay roughly 1/12th of their education costs in taxes every year. The trade-off is that I will pay until I die (minus the low-income exceptions built-in by my State). I figure I would break even after the 120th year of paying property taxes. I'll take that deal anytime.

(3) Taxes != tuition. I used to run a private school. We would typically figure out how much to charge someone based on income. Of course, we called the difference a "scholarship." When the tuition is listed at $15000, say, the real cost of educating a kid might be around $9000. If the kid is the last one, the costs might be as low as $3000. (It doesn't cost much if you can just slide him into classes without hiring a new teacher).

If a family can pay $5000, the scholarship has to be "$10000." The school collects $5000 and figures that $4000 can be scrounged from donations and sources (i.e., other tuitions), won't break the bank and the kid is a good one.

New calculation runs this way: family can pay $5000, voucher is $7500, therefore scholarship is "$2500." The school now is receiving $12500 for a kid whose education costs less than that. Raise your hand if you think that the schools are going to lower the family cost. Didn't think so either. All that vouchers really are is a giveaway to the private schools. I can tell you firsthand that every private school is quietly LOVING the voucher system.

(b) For those districts that negotiate set fees with a private school to be the local public school - those tuition fees are higher than the true cost of the education. We're talking $11000 per. That's guaranteed money. Do you realize how incredible that phrase is to a private school? And those fees are higher than you would have charged the family anyway. If you can get the star quarterback, that's even better. (This is how the local Catholic school competes athletically - skimming. Not too surprisingly, vouchers have become a hot issue around here. I wonder why?)

(4) Room. Take the five schools within this local area. The best one (if you can call it that) is already overcrowded to the point where the freshmen don't have lockers and sophomores have a lottery system. Where exactly are the "choosy" kids going to go?

(5) Driving. Again, take the five schools within this local area. The closest could be next door, obviously, but the farthest would be 15 miles away. Not a big deal here but take any part of this rural state besides the three larger cities and you'll find distances of 40 miles between schools. That means daily commutes of 1.5 hours. Not feasible.

(6) Expulsion. If the kid screws up, the charter school or private school can send him away - with much greater ease than local HS, which also has to take him back. True: local private school expelled the star football player (after the season) for swearing at the refs. By the time the next year came around, they offered him a spot again so he could come and play.

Sorry, Senator. I just don't agree with you.

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