Governor Mitch Daniels signed into law yesterday a bill that allows students to take the tax money appropriated for them in the public schools and use it toward private schools. If I understand correctly, it mainly funds middle and lower income families, which I presume is what Governor Daniels meant by social justice.
First of all, I like Daniels. I voted for Daniels. I consider him an honorable man. He would make a better Republican President than anyone else I know in the field.
I have two strong concerns about this particular program.
1. The first is that the public school system, when it functions properly, is meant to provide a neutral education zone that equips the public to be profitable and fully functioning members of society. Private schools, on the other hand, like home schools, are often mechanisms for insulating children into tribal backwaters.
Let's say there was a city where most people were Schenckacrucians, a new religion that believes the earth is flat and that we should abolish the Constitution in favor of my Book of Schenck. The redistribution of funds for public education will only add to the return to pre-modern tribalism that is well underway in America by allowing the loony parents of Cultsville to send their children to my private school.
2. The problem with the public schools--I say as someone with several children in them and very, very close friends who are on the ground in them--is not the teachers. The problem are the kids who daily call their teachers obscenities in the middle of class that I can't even mention here (I'm talking elementary school). These are the kids who have all manner of defiance disorders who, because of funding cuts, have nowhere to go but the public school classroom. They flip desks, daily cause classrooms to be emptied of the good students so that whoever--sometimes funding cuts have reduced support staff almost to secretaries in the office--can talk them down. School personnel are not allowed to touch them and are discouraged from calling the police.
These are the kids who are in class with your children who, if they were adults, would be locked up or be put in a mental health facility. Funding cuts take away support systems like behaviorists and clinical social workers--four such jobs have been eliminated from the Marion Community Schools system already for next year. And we criticize and hold accountable teachers who are not trained to do that level of psychotherapy and abnormal behavior management on a daily basis. These are not special ed issues--they are mental health issues beyond the competency of teacher training.
How can a school pass ISTEP when these students, and mentally challenged students, and students who have massive attendance problems are part of the assessment? And then we tell the teacher they will be penalized if their class as a whole doesn't improve? We discourage them from taking on hard classes because their pay would be contingent on a no win situation.
My son takes Taekwondo and occasionally, the master will have them play a game where they compete to see who can pull a strip of cloth out from behind their opponent. But he sometimes ties it so that, without the person knowing it, there's no real chance he or she can win.
That's what we've been doing to the public school system these last ten years. We've set it up for failure and then treated our teachers like dirt when their students' test scores don't improve. This new law, however well intentioned, is yet another example of hamstringing an incredibly important part of the American social contract... in my opinion.