protecting Community Schools

We can fix this

John S Santelli, Mary A Ott, Maureen Lyon, Jennifer Rogers, Daniel Summers, and Rebecca Schleifer. (2005) Abstinence and abstinence-only education: A review of U.S. policies and programs. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38, 72-81. Heilbrunn Department of Population & Family Health, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York 10032, USA. Journal of Adolescent Health (Impact Factor: 2.75). 02/2006; 38(1):72-81. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2005.10.006
Source: PubMed

The issue of public education and school vouchers is really an issue about the role of government and who will benefit from taxpayer dollars. Should our money be spent on educating every child, or should education be just another way to give money to the few companies that run for-profit schools? 

Students suffer when funds intended for public schools are siphoned off and given to for-profit schools. Every school voucher printed, every student who transfers to a for-profit online school, represents the loss of a new computer for a public school classroom, the theft of an updated textbook, the death of an important school program. Many of the current efforts at school reform look more like a systematic plan to shut down public schools than a plan to improve education. 

The current relationship between traditional public schools, charter schools, and online public schools gives us some idea of the financial impact that proposed school voucher programs would have on local public schools. Schools in rural areas like Eastern Colorado have already been affected by the trend of students moving to online public schools. Financial losses for public schools, rural and metropolitan, would be compounded if vouchers for for-profit private schools were added to the mix.

In Colorado, school funding is based on what is known as the "October Count", which literally means the number of students enrolled on a specific day in October of that particular school year. Schools receive no funding for students who enroll after the October deadline. This is why there are so many ads for private and online schools at the beginning of the school year and why those ads seem to disappear completely after October 1, when state funds for students are cut off. Most charter schools and online public schools will not accept students once the October count is complete. Public schools receive no additional funding for students who enroll after the October count is complete. 

 According to the Colorado Department of Education, public schools received, on average, $6,474 for each student enrolled in 2013. A district that loses 10 students to a charter school or to an online public school would lose $64,740, or about the cost of hiring or keeping 2 teachers. Or the district might decide not to cut back on teachers and instead choose to make cuts elsewhere. Either way, students suffer. 

For-profit schools have the option of shutting down or moving when they decide that a particular town or region is no longer profitable. With public education left unfunded, who will serve these unprofitable locations? 

Many for-profit, agenda-driven schools tend to gloss over inconvenient scientific truths in favor of political ideologies. People who care about truth and accuracy should not be required to support schools that teach an inaccurate version of history. Religious taxpayers should not be required to support schools of faiths different from their own through school vouchers. 

Under the Republican plan, schools would not be required to teach about the problem of climate change, even though 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real and that human activity has contributed to it. Under their plan, schools would be required to have an abstinence-only sex ed curriculum, even though research has shown that abstinence-only programs are associated with higher rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV (Santelli, et al., 2005). Under the Republican plan, history curriculum would minimize or completely ignore important parts of our American experience, including the legacy of slavery, the contribution of income inequality to the Great Depression, and other valuable lessons. 

Democrats and Republicans agree that every child is entitled to learn the skills and knowledge he or she needs to have in order to compete in a global economy. We believe that taxpayer dollars should not be taken from public schools and given to the corporations that run private schools. Students deserve to be taught the reality of the world in which they live, not partisan stories of science denial and revisionist history. 

Public schools are an important part of a democratic society. A threat to public education is a threat to what makes us Americans.