By John Van Tress
As a retired teacher with 26 years of experience in our local public schools, I read with great interest the opinion piece by Jann Kurrasch, a local real estate agent, in the December 9 edition of the Grunion Gazette concerning the bill on educational freedom.
She says teachers will benefit from the voucher program, saying private schools subsidized by taxpayers will have smaller class sizes and better working conditions and pay. A basic knowledge of the economy will tell you that private for-profit schools will actually have an incentive to cut labor costs in order to increase their profit margins.
According to Kurrasch, “each student will receive $ 14,000 to spend at an accredited private or religious school of their choice.” Again, a basic knowledge of the economy will tell you that such a voucher payment program will create considerable inflationary pressure, which will undoubtedly lead to large increases in tuition fees in private schools.
Thus, low-income students will be “excluded” from the market. The biggest beneficiaries of this voucher program will actually be the higher income parents / guardians / students who do not need the government subsidy in the first place.
Voucher programs, such as the proposed EFA, put taxpayers in the awkward position of funding private schools with programs influenced by corporate and religious philosophies with which they might disagree. Curricula – especially in health sciences, economics, US government, English, history, and science – would be greatly affected. In addition, there would be pressure on teachers to follow the “philosophical line” of their employers. Such pressure would infringe on the academic freedom that teachers cherish.
This is a constitutional concern of great importance. The taxpayer funding of private parochial schools would appear to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law as enunciated by the draftsmen / founders of our US Constitution. They included the establishment clause in our first amendment.
A voucher program, like the EFA, would in effect be tantamount to public funding of certain religious institutions that have schools. Additionally, the fact that not all religions provide Kindergarten to Grade 12 educational services means that these religions, in a discriminatory fashion, would be the only ones to benefit from taxpayer subsidies.
Kurrasch resorts to the old tactic of branding some public schools a failure, never providing possible reasons why measures of educational progress may not be to his liking. Having taught for many years, I think I can speak a little on behalf of teachers, counselors, and administrators as to why the test results are disappointing for some.
Do they realize the environment in which our public schools exist and operate? Our public schools do not operate in a tightly closed environment, isolated from political, social and economic influences. It is well known among educators that the most important factor influencing the results of academic progress tests is the socioeconomic status – the SES – of parents / guardians and the communities that schools serve. Although there are exceptions, the schools / districts with the best test scores have a high SES.
If critics of our public schools, like Kurrasch, want to see better test scores, then we should see them currently advocating policies aimed at leveling the playing field. While I don’t know his personal political positions, I do know those. typically conservative defenders of the good. They oppose the existence of the minimum wage, not to mention its increase. They oppose government attempts to make health care more accessible / affordable. They oppose unionization, which can mean better economic conditions for the family. They oppose family leave. They oppose subsidies for preschool education and child care.
Many of these conservatives oppose these efforts of government as socialism. But could they not help level the playing field?
I think those who publicly defend the freedom of education law should also publicly provide fairly detailed information about the people / organizations funding the efforts to make this a reality. This information should be due to taxpayers / voters who will be asked to approve its implementation.
In conclusion, let’s stop to consider the real effects that can be expected from the adoption of such a good proposition. I believe when studying EFA, as in the past, the vast majority of California taxpayers / voters will reject it.
John Van Tress is a retired teacher living in Long Beach.