There is a lot to appreciate when certain state legislators advocate giving us a voucher worth thousands of dollars with the freedom to educate our children as we choose. Come to think about it, those are my tax dollars. And, as a parent, I am responsible for my child’s education. Besides, reformers keep telling me public schools are failing and I have the right to enroll my child in a school of my choice.
The process is easy. I simply search for the best private, parochial or one of the many "for-profit" schools that will pop up like popcorn ready to serve. Upon being accepted, and with a voucher in hand, my child will be ready to receive the gift of education. Forget the fact that private schools do not have the same state accountability requirements as public schools. Confidently, I will take my administrators at their word that my school of choice performs comparably or better to local public schools.
I understand that, on average, a voucher will not cover the full annual cost of private tuition. I know additional costs for transportation, meals, books, extra-curricular activities and a variety of fees are also not included. However, a voucher worth $5,000 or more each year is a great start! Being a responsible parent, I will do my share and pay out-of-pocket the remaining balance. State budgeters will love me because I am now sharing in the cost of paying for my child’s education. I’m sorry that many parents of economically disadvantaged children may not have the means to supplement their voucher. But, that’s not my problem – I’m talking about my child.
As for those bad public schools, supply and demand will address that problem. The really bad ones will close down, dry up and go away. It’s a competitive environment. Private, parochial and for-profit institutions will do all they can to protect their "first-class" rated campuses. In order to safeguard high academic scores, athletic reputations and alumni foundations, these schools will "pick-and-choose" their students. As an alternative, public schools will become the default choice for the unfortunate, the economically disadvantaged and children with special needs of every kind. Public schools can help these children because they require special attention and cost more to educate.
Let me end with a few serious thoughts. Woven into the social fabric of public education, our founding fathers believed that an educated public is essential to protecting our civil liberties and precious rights. They wrote into the Texas Constitution that this "diffusion of knowledge" – the concept of learning – is to take place through a system of public free schools [Article 7 Sec. 1]. I wonder what they would think today that under the auspice of choice, the concept of school vouchers might outweigh the public responsibility that involves all children – providing an equal opportunity for a quality education for every child.
A valuable mission statement regarding public education is provided in our Texas Education Code. Although I worry that most people are not aware of those cherished words, I am frightened at the prospect that those precious words may one day become meaningless.
"The mission of the public education system of this state is to ensure that all Texas children have access to a quality education that enables them to achieve their potential and fully participate now and in the future in the social, economic, and educational opportunities of our state and nation." [TEC Sec. 4.001]
Bobby J Rigues is on the Aledo ISD School Board, a Leadership TASB Master Trustee, and is the founder of "Make Education a Priority." www.facebook.com/MakeEducationPriority. He hopes that some of the statements above are outlandish enough to be recognized as satire.