To voucher or not to voucher, that is the question facing Utahans:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of the public school system
Or to take tax-payer money to attend private school (remember, parents CHOOSE to send their children to these schools, they are not obligated to spend the money),
And by doing this further damage the public schools? – To hurt public schools, – to take the easy way out, –
Alright, you get the point…My apologies to William Shakespeare for destroying his soliloquy, but I like to think of my destroying a good thing as a metaphor for what vouchers will do to the public school system. Are there problems with the public school system? You bet! But running off to another equally, if not more, flawed system doesn’t fix anything. It only serves to provide the runners with a momentary sense of control and comfort, and to create even more problems for the public schools and the students attending them.
As a teacher, I am all too aware of the potential problems the vouchers could cause at my level. Our student to teacher ratio is a fixed number determined by the school district. If the student population drops, so does the teacher population. Depending on how many students leave, the class size that the voucher proponents claim will drop, may actually increase. Private schools have the option of asking students to leave the school if they are not meeting academic and/or behavioral expectations. Those students would return to the public schools, again increasing class sizes until or unless enough return to warrant the hiring of another teacher. Those who are pro-voucher claim that the public schools benefit monetarily because only $3,000 of the $7,000 currently spent per pupil would go to the private school. This is true, but only for five years, after that all money will be cut from the public schools.
If vouchers pass, other critical items such as health care will likely take a hit, because by the 13th year, when all Utah students have become eligible for the voucher scholarship, the program could cost the state as much as $71,000,000 while saving school districts only a possible $28,000,000. I would hardly consider this a fair trade in the long run.
Voucher supporters use the argument that parents will gain a stronger voice. Well, the last time I, as a parent and taxpayer, checked, I had and have a voice in the public system. It is called the school board, whose members are elected by the local people. If I have problems or concerns, I can just call my school board representative and voice them. If I don’t like what my representative does as a board member, I have the right to vote for someone else in the next election. If I really want to change things, I have the ability to run for a school board position (although as a teacher, I as a citizen forego that option). I also have the ability to get involved in higher levels of politics as well as organizations working to solve any problems that exist in the public school system. That’s the beauty of this living in this country. I can have as much of a voice as I personally choose to have. In other words, if I have no voice, I have no one to blame but myself.
Another argument for vouchers is that academic achievement will go up. Why? How? Potentially smaller class sizes, while they may help, do not guarantee better academic achievement. That is a much more complicated equation that involves parental support, student motivation, and quality of the education/teachers. What says that teachers in private schools are any better than those in public schools? At least in public schools all teachers must have a college degree; “special expertise” alone just won’t cut it.
I have been fortunate that for my entire life, as a student and a parent, my economic situation has always been able to entertain paying for a private school. Yet, I, and my parents before me, never chose that option. What the public system provided was and is good, and rather than run from the problems we did encounter, we chose to stay and work on possible solutions. When I decided to become a teacher, I again chose pubic over private. I believe in the system, and I believe that if all the good minds of parents, politicians and educators in this state come together we can continue to improve and strengthen our public education, instead of adding to the nightmare of its destruction. It will take dedication and a lot of hard work, because, as with most things in life worth having, there is no easy way. As it has been so aptly said, “It takes a village”, or in this case a state.
Oh, and by the way Mr. Urquhart (Utah State Representative), it’s a shame that you are choosing to take the easy way out by supporting vouchers. For those of us who choose to use the voice given us and are trying to do the work necessary to make public education better than ever, status quo is definitely not good enough!
(Source of information: Utah Lt. Governor’s “Utah Voter Information Pamphlet” sections 1:3 through 1:7, available on-line at www.utah.gov/ltgovernor)