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April 27, 2000     Beverly Hills Weekly
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April 27, 2000
 

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opinion/00 commentary HE RING The public opinion forum where Beverly Hills dukes out the issues ARE SCHOOL VOUCHERS THE ANSWER TO THE PUBLIC SCHOOL CRISIS? PRO Senator Ray Haynes There is probably no greater threat to California's or America's economic future than the inferior education that the government-ran school monopoly is providing our children. Almost every study conducted over the past decade on the quality of public education confirms that these schools deserve failing grades. The fault how- ever, should not rest upon teachers, many of whom are well qualified and well intentioned. It rests rather on a system that rewards mediocrity and uniformity, and sti- fles innovation and creativity. No nation or state can survive as an economic superpower if its children are receiving a second-rate education. The powerful Teachers' Union and the edu- cation bureaucracy in California claim that the system needs more funding, and that is why they are doing badly. Ask this simple question: what boss gives an employee who isn't doing their job a raise? A boss who gave a raise to his or her poor performing employees would soon find that business in disarray. Yet that is exactly what policymakers do to education. Perform poorly, get more money. Perhaps this explains some of our problem in our government-run sys- tem today. It seems hard to believe that the government could spend almost four times more money On public schools than it did 40 years ago and have virtually noth- ing to show for it. If all this money didn't go towards making our kids smarter, just where did it go? For most parents and some educators, "back to basics" (reading, writing, and arithmetic) is the key to reform, at least at the elementary and secondary levels. Experience and common sense tell us not to ignore the role of parents in learn- ing, and in exercising at least some control over what and how their children learn. This concept is broadly known as "school choice." School choice requires schools to focus on the customers'needs - that is, the needs of the parent -- in order to earn money. Today, most superintendents in California earn about $150,000 per year, and get the money to pay that salary from politicians in Sacramento and Washington. What if they had to convince parents they were doing a good job, instead of politicians to earn that money? Would they pay more attention to parents' needs and desires for the education system then? Of course they would. The Clintons sent their daughter to private school. And Los Angeles Mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa (a former Democrat Assembly Speaker and teachers" union organizer) knows the value of school choice. He and his wife, a public school teacher, are contemplating private school for their children. He told the Los Angeles Times last month, "As a parent, no matter how passionate you are about public schools, in the final analysis you're going to do what's best for your children." Unfortunately, Democrats have repeatedly killed Republican school choice legislation. School choice creates competition, and competition breeds excellence. Excellence is an option that should be available to families of all economic lev- els -- not just the rich and powerful. CON NSBA Proposals to create private and parochial school vouchers threaten to siphon scarce public resources away from our nation's public schoolchildren. Descriptions of these voucher proposals vary from "portability" to "parental choice," to "opportunity schol- arships," and "tuition tax credits." The proposals also differ in terms of recipients and scope; however, each ultimately uses public money and tax revenues for pri- vate school tuition. Furthermore, many private and parochial schools are free to discriminate based on educational needs, parental involvement, race, and reli- gion. Any voucher proposal will drain money, time, and attention from improv- ing public schools. Voucher plans stand to impact a select few and leave the majority of public school students in schools with fewer resources. NSBA opposes federal or state efforts to mandate choice, including efforts to divert or condition funding from existing federal and state programs. NSBA believes that in meeting local education needs, locally developed policies and program options that give parents the opportunity to select public schools or pro- grams for their children should be considered among a variety of possible edu- ca*tional strategies. Any program allowing parents to clllpose schools must ensure that: (a) the plan does not foster racial, social, or economic segregation or segrega- tion of children with disabilities (b) inter-district transfers must have the consent of both school districts; (c) collective bargaining issues are addressed (d) financial and other administrative issues, such as transportation concerns, are addressed (e) the plan is not part of a federal or state voucher program to finance non- public education (f) students should be required to make at least a one-year commitment to a school of choice to foster stability of school management Congress faces a fundamental choice-provide vouchers for a few students or improve public schools for all students. Nearly 90 percent of America's school- children learn in our public schools. Draining badly needed money from our public schools could undermine the education of children in school systems that do not have money to improve public schools, hire more teachers, reduce class sizes, put more computers in the classroom, or implement other proven reforms. For example, in Ohio, taxpayers spent $8.7 million on vouchers in the Cleveland public schools, when they could have implemented a proven reading program in all 80 of Cleveland's elementary schools for just $4 million. NSBA urges Congress to reject vonehers and work with NSBA to improve, not weaken, the educational opportunities of the 46 million children who are enrolled in public schools. The NatioMl School Boards Assosication is based in Alexandria, V'u,ginia. Senator Ray Haynes is the Republican Whip in tile Cah'fornia State Senate. If you have an idea for "The Ring", call 310.688.6761 April 27-May 3, 2000 5