Public schools would suffer from false promise of vouchers
by Stephen Kleinsmith
In an op-ed column of mine published in the News-Leader Sept. 14, 2003, I stated, "It is becoming ever so apparent to me that the next 'strategic' step after implementation of No Child Left Behind is to slowly move our country's public into the voucher arena."
Well, as recently as last Tuesday, some in Congress have proposed to spend $100 million on vouchers for low-income students in what NCLB determines 'chronically failing public schools' and attend private schools at public expense.
One of the saddest parts of all this is that, just after the Sept. 11 crisis, President Bush and Sen. Kennedy slipped NCLB into federal law; then, during the Katrina/Rita crisis, President Bush pushed for voucher usage as the "solution of choice"; now, during the Middle East crisis, we are seeing another attempt to migrate our country into privatizing public schools.
Americans will do well to keep in mind why we have public schools. Education is the backbone of our democracy; without education a young person has little chance to succeed in our nation.
Education is the glue that holds our country together. Recognizing that, each state's constitution mandates the state to provide public education for every child living in the state. Also, those public schools are open to every child who walks through the door. No one is turned away.
Even if you're brown or tan or red or white or yellow or black; if you are paralyzed and in a wheelchair; if you have trouble concentrating; if you think or act differently than others --no matter what --you are welcome at your public school. It's like home: They have to take you in. Finally, the responsibility for operating public schools rests with each local community, the citizens of which elect a school board and levy taxes on themselves to pay for the education of every child in your community.
Taking another angle at this issue, one may ask, what's the problem with vouchers? Voucher schools don't have to let anyone in their doors. The CEO and staff can pick and choose whomever they want to attend. Voucher schools don't have to show the public how well their students are performing. And I can assure you, when the potion of NCLB does what it's designed to do, private schools funded by tax dollars will not have to abide by the same unattainable regulations as the public schools are required to play by.
They don't and won't have to give standardized tests, like the ones Congress and the president just required for every child, grades three through eight, in every public school. And don't forget that by 2014 our federal law requires that ALL public school children must be reading, writing and doing math at or above the "proficient" level (which in some states like Missouri equates to "above grade level") regardless of what language they speak or what disability they have.
And you'll seldom see a voucher school's board meeting on the local cable channel, because voucher schools don't have to abide by the open meetings law. All their decisions can be kept secret. I know, I used to work for private schools in the past. I didn't believe in vouchers then, nor do I now, mostly because I love this country of ours and because vouchers are bad for America!
"Momentum is on our side," said Rep. Howard McKeon, R-California, the chairman of the House Education Committee that is pushing for the implementation of vouchers. Let us in Missouri be among those Americans who take an active approach to reversing any momentum behind the ongoing attempt to privatize American's public schools.
Don't believe all you hear about how terrible public schools are. And beware of those who would seek to dismantle public schools and turn over your tax dollars to people who want that money, even if they don't want every child.
Stephen Kleinsmith is the superintendent of schools for the Nixa R-II School District.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES