In the news recently, police jailed poor single mothers because they have elected to enroll their children in schools outside of their designated areas. One was a homeless woman in Connecticut, http://gothamist.com/2011/04/27/homeless_mother_in_court_for_illega.php and the other, a woman in Ohio http://www.aolnews.com/2011/01/26/ohio-mom-kelley-williams-bolar-jailed-for-lying-about-kids-scho/. Their crime: they wanted their child to attend a “good” school. They apparently felt that the school the district assigned their children to attend was not good enough. Therefore, they sought out other options.
This is where proponents of vouchers focus their arguments. They argue that everyone should have an option to send their children to the best schools. Why should poor parents not have the option to send their children to schools that the rich do? Why not set aside $5,400 for parents to help offset the cost of a good education. The foundation of this argument is that the public school system is broken and the only out is to have kids attend these good institutions.
However plausible that argument is on the surface, it does not address the real issue–why are there “good” schools and why are there some “bad” schools? Why do we frame the conversation around good and bad schools anyway? Why some schools optional and others are are not? Why cannot parents feel just as good at sending their children to the school across the street from their home as sending the children across town? Moreover, what are we going to do with all of the children who do not get in to the “good” schools? By framing the discussion around good and bad schools; around public and private, and yes, around who gets vouchers and who does not, we are telling everyone, especially our students and teachers, “Hey, there are some good schools and if you are not attending them, then you must attend a bad one.”
We see good school bad school dichotomy at work every year when parents line up at the Board of Education overnight to get their children into good schools. We see it when parents “brag” about getting their child into a “charter school,” or my daughter or son will not attend that school. I hear it even from preachers, who themselves pastor and serve urban churches and where many of their congregants attend the so-called “bad” schools, who would not dare to “sacrifice their children,” to these “pitiful” public schools. No, vouchers would not stop our “good school” “bad school” dichotomy.
However, what it will do is get a lot of private school owners and shareholders rich by having a guaranteed income source without the mandates that public schools have. It will continue to drain an already beleaguered public school system all the talented teachers and gifted students and leave behind the less professional and challenged children in run down and forgotten schools. Why? Because it will continue to siphon money away from the public schools as more and more politicians–being “lobbied” by private institutions will feel “obligated” to increase funding or provide incentives that would secure these schools from any type of regulation. It will only perpetrate and expose even more the lingering problems we have at educating our students. Until we make all the schools good schools, we will not solve any of our lingering problems concerning education.