Public schools the great equalizer

On Monday, I attended a meeting to give testimony on a Senate Resolution (SJR 9) that would put a measure on the November ballot changing the Alaska Constitution to allow the state to spend public money on private and religious schools. The testimony was overwhelmingly against the resolution. Those opposed were caring, articulate, and most of all, logical. No one thought there should not be choice. If a family wants to send their children to private schools, that’s okay, but public money should be spent on public schools which already provide choice through public charter schools. Public Schools are considered the great equalizer. A successful democracy needs an educated population. Public money should not be spent on private education.

Hundreds of years ago, most learning happened at home. Parents taught their children or, if their families could afford it, private tutors did the job. A class system of haves and have-nots was the norm.

Thomas Jefferson called for public education, but he was ignored. By the 1840s, a few public schools had popped up around the country in the communities that could afford them. However, that smattering of schools wasn’t good enough for education crusaders Horace Mann of Massachusetts and Henry Barnard of Connecticut. They began calling for free, compulsory school for every child in the nation.

Even with tax credits or vouchers equaling $4,000 to $5,000 for private education, not many families could afford the remaining $4,000 to $5,000 dollars per child that is the average private school tuition. Giving vouchers would simply line the pockets of people who can already afford a private education. Poorer families would still not be able to take advantage of vouchers.

At a time when our schools are facing huge budget deficits and laying off hundreds of classroom teachers and education professionals statewide, the Legislature’s own research shows that school vouchers could take as much as $100 million of your tax dollars a year out of Alaskan public school classrooms and give the money away to private schools. Flat funding has already led to bigger class sizes and stretched our teachers too thin in Alaska. It’s time to go back to basics and invest in existing public schools.