Public Schools reach Level Orange Alert


Email Sandra Nichols

  "Please consider how many people have become rich the hard way by age 5. This is not a matter of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and thereby deserving a better education than your neighbor."


ssst. There's a rumor going around about an insidious plot which is causing me grave concern. Public Alert: Level orange!

The rumor is that those who favor school vouchers are promoting deterioration of public schools in an effort to win converts to their pro-voucher agenda.

The schools face a budget crisis worse than anyone remembers. Now, if public schools are allowed to deteriorate due to funding cuts, imagine how the voucher movement would gain steam

Let's talk about school vouchers in terms of pragmatics, social justice and common sense.

All talks about vouchers need to address the issue of public education as based on the premise that all people are created equal. If you believe in the essential equality of all people at their birth, then you will rally to support public schools.

Pragmatically speaking, consider the benefit to the entire country when we have a nation of readers and thinkers. It behooves us to educate the people with whom we are going to be living and doing business by providing quality education to the masses. They're at the beach with you. They're driving down Highway 1 with you. They're serving on your juries. And many of them vote.

If we agree that all people are created equal and that the country benefits from a well-educated populace, then we can procede to talk some common sense.

At the heart of this is our tax dollar. When I write my tax check, it is not for me to decide whether it should pay for a wider freeway, a better library, or beefed up law enforcement. We have a voice in those issues, but we can not line them out on our taxes and say, "I will pay for X, but not Y and Z."

So it is with the schools. It doesn't matter whether you have no children, or lots of children. You pay a share of educational dollars. You are not paying for your own children's education when you write that tax check. You are paying for the education of the masses.

Let's talk about the fairness factor. Please consider how many people have become rich the hard way by age 5. This is not a matter of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and thereby deserving a better education than your neighbor. No. This is a case of equal opportunities.

Before we allow our public schools worsen, let's conceptualize a country in which those who can pay get better educations than those who can not. There is already a phenomenon happening in our country referred to as the "hour glassing of America," a shrinking of the middle class, while the ranks of the rich and poor swell. This hour glassing is a sign that we in the USA are losing bragging rights about the land of opportunity.

Let's be clear on this! Nobody is trying to take away the right of parents to send their children to private schools. But do we find it wise to divert public education dollars into private schools? Economically disadvantaged children already have significant obstacles to overcome, without having the public school deteriorate.

People argue that if there were school vouchers then children from poor families could afford to send their kids to private schools. This is baloney. Poor families can not afford to pay the difference between the amount the vouchers will cover and the amount the private schools will charge. The whole voucher movement is sponsored by folks already sending their kids to privates.

Lastly, people say, "But vouchers will motivate public schools to do a better job because of the competition they create." Well, certain tasks are done well under this kind of pressure. Race horses, seeing the competition overtaking them will give forth another burst of energy. However having another school breathing down your neck to take your students if you don't achieve high APIs just isn't the way to motivate a school or a teacher. Motivate them with pay bonuses. Motivate them with better quality equipment. Motivate them by taking them out to lunch, saying "Thank you", or writing a letter of praise to the editor.

We can not afford to abandon our public schools. To do so would only harm our most vulnerable. The public schools are a system that we need to fortify. Polish them up. Repair the broken parts. Cause them to rise like a phoenix to their former glory. Then we can all share in the glory of the land of opportunity.

Sandra Nichols is President of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board serving 20,000 students in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools, and was recently appointed by the Board of Supervisors to the Santa Cruz County Children and Youth Commission. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2003