As Catholic schools close their doors due to a lack of funding, public schools get crowded. Watch any debate on public education, and two issues stand out; a strong contract for educators and overcrowded schools.
Teachers unions are quite powerful, and they can influence policy. Unions have long opposed any possibility of school vouchers as a means of opening up new opportunities for children and their parents. The beneficiaries of a voucher program would not be the wealthy; they can already afford private education. The good student, trapped in a bad school needs an education now. He or she does not have the time to wait for a school to re-tool itself.
The idea of school vouchers, where parents would get to choose a school of their choice (if they chose to opt out of public education), is not a perfect solution. Some see this as a violation of church and state concerns. They feel that this is public money that can fund private institutions. There also runs the risk that if the vouchers work, the already overburdened public school system would drink a tall glass of humiliation.
I graduated from a small Catholic high school, where I was “zoned” for a very poorly performing public school. An odd kid, I honestly thought I needed more structure. So I was happy to go to private school. I made friends with which I still keep in touch. I went on to go to college and graduate school. There is no guarantee that any particular education will breed success. But those of us that graduated Monsignor McClancy High School in 1989 became good citizens. Not all were Catholics. Not all were very smart. None of us were wealthy. But the work and the attention to basic values served these (still young) men well. I wish other students in failing schools could benefit from what I was lucky enough to have. I think we can do this without hurting public school teachers.
Maybe vouchers are too controversial and polarizing politically to ever get the traction needed. After all, the politicians in the neighborhoods that need this the most are usually in the party that opposes this most. But perhaps a tax credit plan, where parents could get a credit back on the money they are already paying, would make choice possible.
Would the tax credit plan hurt funding that is slated for public schools? Well, public schools spend an average of $8,000 per child. Private schools do this with almost half of that amount, and the results are far better. If a family received $500 in return for not using the public system, they would be saving the public school the cost of educating that child.
Many public schools in New York City are the best in the country. Bronx Science, Stuyvesant High School, Bayside High School, and the list can go on. This is great, and it means that there will not be a mass exodus of students leaving the public system. It would also help the private schools, which are in demand, but – due to economic reasons – have many empty seats.
Some students cannot learn in a large, factory-like school. Some may get intimidated by it. We have these great private schools that can take the burden off of the public system; we owe it to kids to find a solution.
In a time when even Barack Obama is talking about utilizing faith based programs (and sending his kids to private school), why would education be any different? There is no more important program than one that educates. After all – the new president has made it a point to say that all Americans should have access to the same healthcare as their congress and president. Why would access to education be any different?
This may upset career educators, and I hope it doesn’t. I have been a teacher as well. The focus right now needs to be on the students, and the ability of the parents to play a more active role in the process. School choice should be a part of that process.