The following is an editorial from The Roswell Beacon in my hometown of Roswell, GA.

Bob Chase, President of the NEA, once said the nation’s public schools are the backbone of our democratic system, weaving our diverse society into a nation and helping young people grow into responsible citizens. Most would agree it is in the best interest of our country that every child receive a quality education, one that not only prepares students for the challenges of life, but does so in an environment that is as diverse as our society. The issue of school vouchers, however, often divides people on how that education should be funded and implemented.

Milton Friedman popularized the concept of universal vouchers in 1955 and his proposals have been the model for advocates ever since. But when closely examined, current school “choice” proposals seldom address hidden costs like transportation that could only be financed with higher taxes, forcing citizens to support two educational systems and the resulting government bureaucracy it would create. Voucher plans have an inherent tendency to reinforce segregation along class lines. No voucher program covers total tuition costs meaning lower income families would be burdened with expenses that would not impact higher income families.

In the “real world,” voucher programs don’t improve the academic performance of students. In Milwaukee, which has the nation’s largest voucher system, both math and English scores have remained the same for students who’ve taken advantage of the program. This lends credence to a 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Education that found no difference in the level of achievement of students in public and private schools.

As with any idea that divides the left and right, the devil is in the details. The concept of school vouchers has merit. After all, it’s obvious the public school system as a whole has deteriorated. But instead of looking to vouchers, which will starve public schools of needed funds, why not think of ways to rebuild public education? How about raising the qualification standards of teachers and then paying them what they’re worth? Why not explore charter schools, publicly funded institutions run by independent organizations that would be secular, non-profit and state-certified? The reality of current voucher proposals only widens the educational divisions in our community, rather than diminish them so that we all benefit.

Finally, the motivation by some proponents of school vouchers – that they shouldn’t have to pay for public facilities that they don’t use – is a detriment to our country. Taken to its logical conclusion, we might one day demand our taxes be withheld from the local library or road-widening project if we never intend to check out books or drive that route. Like the above examples, “opting out” of supporting public education should not be an option.

(For Centrist news and opinion, visit DonkeyDigest)

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