Sunday, February 14, 2016

HB2949 -- and John Green

My letter to the House Common Education Committee:

As you consider HB2949, giving taxpayer funds to some families and not others, I want to introduce you to John Green. If you don’t have a teen reader in your home, you probably don’t know his name.

John Green was raised, and still lives, in my home state of Indiana. He’s a wildly-popular young adult author, and wildly rich, with two of his books already films, Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars. My granddaughter breathlessly informed me his first book, and still my personal favorite, will also become a film: Looking for Alaska.

John Green was educated, in part, in a private boarding school. His parents decided they wanted him to have a different kind of education at a boarding school, so they paid for that education.

I was lucky enough to meet John Green at a few authors’ conferences, and he blushed when I told him I was an English teacher. He admitted he was pretty hard on his English teachers in high school, and I allowed as that did not surprise me. His ready wit and irreverence could drive teachers to distraction.

I give you this background so you can fully understand his words.

“Public education does not exist for the benefit of students or the benefit of their parents.”

I translate that to mean per pupil expenditure does not belong to students or their parents.

“[Public education]…exists for the benefit of the social order.”

All of us. Together. Investing in all our children. Taxpayers with children in school. Taxpayers whose children (like mine) have grown and no longer attend school. Retired citizens (also me!), taxpayers who never had children. We all invest because it is for the benefit of the social order. All of us. Together.

"...You do not need to be a student or have a child who is a student to benefit from public education. Every second of your life, you benefit from public education.”

Remember, Green is a product of both public and private education. And yet he recognizes and celebrates the contribution of public schools.

HB2949 will take funding from already-struggling schools, and will benefit, not all students, but a privileged few. Those whose social circle has connections to private schools. Those who live in the vicinity of a private school. Those who can readily afford to pay the balance of the tuition after the voucher has been applied. Those who can readily afford transportation, uniforms, lunches, fees. Those who, if they want to choose private schools, could probably afford it, as Green’s parents did.

I understand ALEC wants this bill…it’s fashioned after the ALEC model bill. But Oklahoma needs a different direction.

Oklahoma needs to take care of every student in public schools before we divert funds from our schools. Oklahoma needs new textbooks and school librarians and library books. Oklahoma needs traditionally-educated, certified teachers in every classroom.

Please vote no Monday on HB2949. If you’re one of the six committee members who’ve signed on as an author, it’s not too late to change your mind, and vote for public education and our students.

I leave you with Green’s ending…and remember, I told you he was irreverent.

“So, let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don’t personally have a kid in schools (he may now…his son is probably school age. And, he may send his son to a private school, as is his right): it’s because I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.”

If you’ve read his work, that punch line doesn’t surprise you., But I’ll rephrase: “I don’t want to live in a country where there is a separate-and-unequal system of education. I don’t want to live in a country that has willingly turned its back on the most vulnerable, most challenging children to educate. I’m old enough to remember ‘separate but equal.’ It certainly was separate. It was not equal.

You have the opportunity to stand up for all children and students in public education.

Please do that. Vote No.

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