Let me preface this by saying that my understanding of the recently-passed Democrat-backed healthcare bill is elementary at best. (Let’s be honest here–even the knowledge of the Senators and Congressmen that have voted for this bill is elementary at best. There’s no way any one of them has read and understood all 2,500+ pages of this behemoth).
Now that that’s out of the way, on to my point. One thing I read about in the bill is that it provides for “free choice vouchers.” These are vouchers that certain employers must give to certain employees under certain conditions (again–does anyone really understand all the provisos and limitations of this thing? But I digress…) that will allow these employees to purchase their own health insurance through an exchange. The voucher guarantees that the employer will pay the same amount to this new insurance company that it would have payed to the company it does business with.
Personally, I think that sounds like a great idea. I’m all for giving people more choice. (Whether the federal government should be the one to mandate that choice is a question and an argument for another day). In fact, my big question here is–why is Congress so reluctant to mandate the same choice for parents who are dissatisfied with their local public school’s performance, but can’t afford to send their children to a private school, or even to a charter school that is too far away to be cost-effective?
I saw a story on CNN the other day that the Detroit public school system is closing 45 more schools in the near future, which means that about 50% of Detroit’s public schools have been closed since 2003. The reason? At least according to the commentator, a local reporter who has been covering education in the area for who knows how many years–competition from charter schools. She and the anchor then went on to debate whether this meant the end of education in Detroit. I, for one, think they both need to be slapped upside the head.
The death of public schools, especially at the hand of charter schools, does not mean the end of education! If anything, it signals the resurgence of education! For untold numbers of years, people have clamored for more money for our schools. If kids are underperforming–give the school more money. If teachers aren’t meeting proper goals and standards–give the school more money. No matter what the problem–give the school more money. Problem is, it hasn’t worked. You can’t throw money at an underperforming school and expect everything to just work itself out any better than you can throw water on a grease fire and expect it to quench the flames.
Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not so naive as to think that there are no under-funded schools that really could use more money for facilities and extracurricular programs. My point is simply this–competition will do more for underperforming schools than bags of cash. Thanks to teachers’ unions, there’s really no incentive to improve. Teacher’s salaries are woefully low for the job we expect them to do, but at least that job is secure. Short of budget cuts or murder, it is tough to get rid of a teacher that is not doing his or her job.
Giving parents the means to create competition for these teachers could very well be the fire that gets them going. You want to provide money to schools, send the money where the child is. Give parents vouchers that let them send their children to better schools, just like these free choice vouchers will let people buy insurance they otherwise might not have access to for financial reasons. The prospect of losing students, and therefore more funding, could very well be the incentive schools and teachers need to step up their game.
My kindergartner goes to a charter school. It is significantly farther from our house than the public school around the corner, but I have no qualms about declaring her school, the Sonoran Science Academy, to be leaps and bounds ahead of any public school in Tucson. She is starting to read basic chapter books, and she is currently doing at least first-grade math. And it’s not because SSA is loaded, not by any stretch of the imagination. The school scrounges for every nickel it gets. Parents are asked to provide many of the classroom supplies, and it seems like there is a new fundraiser every other day.
The key is what they do with what they have. The kids are challenged every day to do better. Starting next year, I’m told that children will study individual subjects according to their aptitude. Thus, if Katie shows up for school next year reading at a second-grade level, she’ll do reading with second graders, or math with third graders, etc. Compare this with a friend’s public school experience, where the parents were told that their child was bored in class because she was so far ahead of her classmates, but that she had to stick with the rest of them anyway. How does that make any sense? There is absolutely no reason to hold a child back like that. Giving everyone a fair shot at success does not mean suppressing everyone to the same level. If a child can hold her own with older kids in a certain subject, she should be allowed, and even encouraged, to.
I may have rambled a bit here, but my point is this–competition is good. If Congress thinks it will work for healthcare, they need to give it a shot with schools. If Detroit is closing public schools because more and more parents are sending their kids to charter schools, then I applaud those parents for doing what is best for their children and not merely taking the easy way out by sending them to the public school simply because it’s closer. If public schools are given an incentive to improve, then everyone benefits.