by Tammy Drennan
Note: This is a fictional exchange that expresses very real issues.
From: A Local Public School Board
Re: School Choice/Vouchers
We would like to address the complaints made by a few parents at a local school board meeting. These parents were having trouble understanding why they could not simply receive a voucher and enroll their children in any school of their choice.
On the surface, it may seem like a good idea to give parents a coupon and let them choose what sort of education they would like for their children. Everyone likes the idea of choice, including us. We encourage parental involvement in their children’s education.
But you can see how total freedom of choice, without any oversight or regulation, could become a nightmare.
Many parents are not qualified to make choices for their children due to their own poor level of education, substance abuse issues, emotional or psychological challenges, and other circumstances of life, including poverty. Parents more able to make good choices would be empowered to give their own children an unfair advantage over the children of the less able, creating an even more polarized and imbalanced society than we already have.
Additionally, voucher monies are taxpayer, thus government, funds. The government is not in the habit of dispersing money without careful regulation to make sure it is used in a manner consistent with federal and state laws, including protecting the public from having their money spent to promote private agendas or beliefs or to give one group an unfair advantage over another. Public schools are commissioned with the job of promoting diversity and equal rights and guarding the process of education against aberrant ideologies and personal dogmas. Without oversight and regulation, there is no guarantee that a private school will follow the same guidelines.
Unregulated school choice, funded by taxpayers, is also unfair to those who have trained so long and so hard to teach. Without government oversight, a parent might inadvertently or intentionally choose a school or an individual lacking in the expertise to advance a child’s education – to the child’s and society’s detriment.
A century and a half of work, reform and fine-tuning has gone into creating the publicly-funded school system we enjoy today. It is kept on track and in line with modern thought and education philosophy because of strict oversight and regulation. Do we really wish to throw over 150 years of work to the wind?
We certainly welcome a greater role of parents in our schools. And we’re open to carefully regulated school choice. But we think you can see why we stand firmly against choice that removes authority from government and places it fully in the hands of parents. We stand by our right and responsibility to make sure that all children attend schools that comply with certain interpretations of education and education delivered in equitable, diversity-respecting, measureable ways.
We appreciate all parents who are concerned and involved with their children’s education. We encourage you to volunteer at your children’s schools, help them with their homework, read with them and enrich their lives with cultural activities like visiting museums and travel.
Let us assure you that your children are in good hands, and we will work to make sure any voucher or school choice program remains firmly under our auspices so your children will continue to receive the well-rounded education to which they are accustomed.
Sincerely yours, Your School Board
A Parent Responds
Dear School Board,
Thank you for your enlightening letter that explains how dangerous you consider parents to the well-being of their children.
I would like to share some experiences and a decision I’ve made.
My son, Johnny, has come home three times with bruises inflicted by fellow students since the school year began two months ago. School terrifies him. I took him to the psychologist you recommended, but it hasn’t helped. Not even the anti-depressant the doctor prescribed helped – really, it seemed to make it worse. Further, Johnny is still being harassed at school.
It’s not only the emotional and physical abuse that’s a problem with Johnny. He’s in the fifth grade and is barely reading. You probably noticed, too, that he scored in the 31st percentile in math on the last standardized test.
I know you can’t be concerned with the individual aspirations of every child, but when Johnny was five years old, he wanted to become a doctor. That was his dream until last year. Now he just wants to stay in bed so he can feel safe.
My daughter, Nadine, has been fortunate enough not to have to deal with physical bullying. She’s in middle school, eighth grade. Her biggest problems are the daily inappropriate and humiliating taunts of boys and a lack of opportunity to pursue her strengths in art and languages. She’s bored and under-challenged and losing interest in learning. She used to be such a vibrant girl, full of life and energy. School has sucked all that from her. She won’t even look at her art supplies at home anymore. “They won’t help my grades,” she says.
Forgive me for focusing so much on my own children, but they’re the ones I brought into the world and have a personal interest in. I want to see them happy and independent. If I may be so bold, I do feel I have a deeper interest in their success than you do – I mean their real success, beyond an acceptable score on a generic test.
At any rate, I’m not asking you to address my children’s individual issues – I know you have a lot on your plate. And quite frankly, I hold myself more responsible for this situation than I hold you. I never should have let it get to this point.
Your letter helped me realize that you’re not the people I want in charge of my children’s education and lives. I only wish I’d realized it sooner.
I’m not asking for a voucher for another school that meets your “standards.” My husband and I have decided to exercise our right to take our kids back and provide an education for them ourselves. It won’t be easy, but it will be exciting and worth it.
I wish all parents could know how liberating and hopeful such a choice is! We feel like we have our family and our future back! I’m sorry for the enthusiasm, but when you’re this happy, it’s hard to suppress it. I’ve already arranged for Nadine to apprentice with a local artist in exchange for helping with the lady’s housework, and my husband is setting aside time to teach Johnny anatomy!
Please look more closely at the children still under your care. I’m sure my children are not the only ones who have lost precious time and hope. It’s such a sad situation.
Sincerely, A Parent
Note: This is a fictional exchange that expresses very real issues.