Wednesday, January 28, 2015

School Choice Conversation, with Strong Talking Points

I have very smart friends, face-to-face friends and online friends. I learn so much from them. Recently we had a conversation online about vouchers, and why parents might support vouchers and why they might not. 

The conversation is particularly timely for us in OK right now, School Choice Week, since several bills have been filed in the Legislature to allow vouchers -- they are euphemistically called 'empowerment' bills, or 'scholarship' bills.  They're sold as 'savings accounts,' just as ALEC recommends. They all mean the same thing -- taking money from the dwindling public education coffers and taking that money to private schools...religious schools, unaccredited schools. In fact, the major OK voucher bill actually has fewer accountability requirements than ALEC recommends. Let that fact sink in for a moment. 

I'll quote my smart friends' comments, using only their first names.

Sherri starts the conversation: 

I see them (vouchers) as a way to finally put school choice in the hands of parents. As a homeschooler myself, I pay taxes into a school district I don't use, spend money on curriculum that is not tax deductible & while I too fought CCSS, I'm still pro-vouchers. It would be nice for my children to receive the same x amount of dollars that public, charter, K12 & private students are entitled to receive toward their education. I'm just curious of your stance. (Please believe, I am not trying to be argumentative. I truly only want to understand your stance, if it's different than mine, so we can see if there's an area in which we agree. And if not, at least I'll be enlightened as to how the "other side" thinks. )

Angela responds: 
Very much against vouchers because I support public education. Also the bill g is ALEC model legislation. We've seen what ALEC is all about. No thanks.

Sherri hits on an important point:

I too feel public education when funded properly, staffed by the best of the best (who feel they're thought of thusly), will help all children succeed.

Oh, yes! What if public schools were properly funded, with all the resources -- and teachers -- needed to assure every child could succeed? What if...

Angela gets to the heart of the matter:

Parents have always been free to direct their personal funds to the private schools of their choice, for what they see as the additional private benefit of their own children.

But people pay taxes to support the public school system whether they are parents or not. If only parents are given a choice in the type of school system their tax dollars support, then only parents of school-age children should pay school taxes, and based on the number of children in school.

Private individuals are not entitled by any consideration of the common good to divert public funds for the sake of private corporate profit and personal religious preferences.

When people start seeing education as a private commodity that parents buy for their own children just another personal choice, like whether to buy designer jeans or that hot new toy then we are going to see a taxpayer revolt like we have never seen before, and public-funded education will cease to exist.
 Then what's next, people giving their tax dollars to only the specific roads they drive on? It's never ending

I laughed when I read Angela's last comment...that really shows how ludicrous it is to say someone can take "their" tax contributions to benefit themselves. I have some roads in east Norman I'd LIKE to support!

Sarah joins the conversation with a concrete example of how much it would cost to attend a private school in the OKC area, and how far our tax contribution would really go...

So what about the people that rent homes or live in an apartment and pay no property taxes? Does that mean that their child isn't worthy of getting a voucher to go to a charter school? What if that child is gifted? Should property owners be allowed to opt out because they don't want to send "that" kid to a charter school?

And if you want "the money to follow the student" then you should only be able to take out the money that you pay in each year and then pay the difference.
So for example, a (family member's) property tax bill is $977.89/year; of that 59.22% goes to public schools (K-12 not higher ed); by that figure just under $580 goes to public schools. SO say you wanted to send your child to Heritage Hall and they are in 2nd grade which tuition is $13,340 (not including books and fees) and use your voucher money to "make it possible." That means that you'd a) have to get accepted to Heritage Hall - which they're not required to accept anyone with vouchers, and b) be able to pay the difference of $12,760.

Because I don't want to pay for YOUR kid to go to Heritage Hall if MY kid doesn't get to go too.

Sarah puts the conversation into perspective...when my children were in public school in Norman OK, the student aid amount far exceeded what my husband and I contributed in taxes. The rest of the contribution was other taxpayers whose taxes were collected to support all public school students. I am not entitled to money I haven't contributed. I cannot take others' taxes and use them as I choose. That's downright unAmerican, I'd say.

Angela is a Mama Bear:
It definitely opens too many doors! Private and charter doesn't mean better. Someone wants your public schools to be failing but they aren't failing. Start digging into why this is. People profit from charter schools and private schools. They want to capitalize on our children. I won't allow it.

Brendan brings the conversation back to the inadequate funding of our schools. In OK, we have seen higher cuts to school funding than any state in the nation. Vouchers, in my opinion, would do exactly what Brendan suggest here:

The end result of vouchers would be to turn public schools into government dumping grounds for the student with the most challenges. A better solution would be to invest in our public schools and give them the resources to do even better than they are.

I love Sarah's combination of passion and facts:

 The point of property taxes paying for public education is that we have a WHOLE bunch of (hopefully) well-educated people which means they drive more businesses opportunities to our communities, industry for consumables and textiles, etc. 
I don't agree with vouchers because I don't believe it's the responsibility of EVERYONE to pay for a very small percentage (less than 1%) of students to go to a private school if EVERY STUDENT doesn't get to go too - and it's not about the parents not exercising the option but most parents of public school students couldn't pay the difference, or a private school isn't close enough to them to make it feasible, and there just flat out aren't enough private schools to handle all the students.
She is making the same point young adult author John Green did here:

Sarah continues -- and we come back to equitable funding of schools, and another issue...proper resources to help every child learn.

OH and let's pull back the curtain here: the school choice advocates really just want to publicly fund religious schools - I mean how many non-sectarian private schools are there in Oklahoma?

On the flip side, I fully support scholarships and grants that allow special needs students to attend schools that are properly equipped to handle their needs IF their local schools is not capable of doing so. Of course, I believe we should invest more in the special needs programs to prevent this from being a necessity but there's some districts that just aren't going to be able to adapt to that - sometimes because there's not enough students to "warrant" it.

And Brendan identifies the gorilla in the room:
 Special education is driven my unfunded federal mandates. That has always been a problem.

 Amanda has the last word: 

Vouchers/ESAs are just another way to send public dollars to PRIVATE entities!

Until someone can convince me otherwise, I'm right there with Amanda. No, the state aid is NOT your money. No, you can't just decide to let the state subsidize your choice to go to private school. No, this is not the best thing for public education. 

I think my friends gave us all some strong talking points when we visit with our Legislators about these voucher bills. 

And as my very smart friend Brett Dickerson says here, the choice is NOT ours...the choice is private schools. They will choose what students to take (not the challenging ones for sure). They will choose what services to provide. They will choose when to expel students and send them back to public schools. 

The choice is not ours.  

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