It is understood that much of our country is saddled with low standards of education and it has often been mentioned that better education for our young people is the surest and best way to raise our standard of living. This is the place to explore the situation and what can be done about it.
We guarantee free education for everyone K through 12. We largely pay for this experience through property taxes. In a wealthy subdivision of expensive homes, the schools have plenty of money. In the inner city with very low property taxes, the schools suffer.
One of the surest ways to insure a quality education for the kids is to attract quality teachers. One of the factors necessary to get the best for the kids is to pay the teachers a quality salary. When making a decision about school funding, paying more requires a tax increase. In an affluent area, that's not too difficult. In poorer areas, it's not so easy. It has also been a problem where families are older (without school age children).
Teacher pay is an important issue but recent teacher strikes around the country have exposed another issue - the condition of schools and the lack of basic supplies in many them.
While many of the financial issues can be traced to the taxes that come from the area in which the school is located, there are other money issues. Some states have allowed gambling to flourish partly based on the promise that schools will benefit from taxes earned from the gambling industry. There are examples where tax money destined for schools has been diverted to other purposes by state legislatures.
Recently (last 5 years or so) there is another threat to our education system from charter schools. Charter schools are supposed to have an advantage in that they can to some degree set their own curriculum, hire the teachers they need, and administer the school with local input rather than matching rules and regulations set by state or federal governments.
There are a number of good charter schools but there are also many that lag behind public schools in results. When they don't do well, the problems are usually traced to how they use the funds they receive from the state. The theory is that the state will turn over to the company running the school the per student money allocated to the public schools. The bottom line is that the company that runs a school is not a charity. They need to earn a profit. If they get the same money that a public school gets per student, where does the profit come from?
If you are a company looking for profit the first and most obvious source is to cut teacher pay. Hire less experienced teachers and don't allow teacher unions in. Since the school is not bound by state or national government rules, they can reduce costs by not accepting problem students - handicapped, foreign language speakers, low performing kids or troubled kids - that public schools must educate.
Another variation of the charter school is the questionable concept of "school vouchers". If your child is attending a poor performing school (actually schools don't perform at all - it's the students and teachers that are responsible for the school's rating), you can get a voucher that will allow your child to attend a better performing private school. There are a few problems with this concept. First, the cost. Most private schools ask parents to pay a fee to have their child attend. That fee is often quite a bit more than the states per student budget so how do we justify just sending anyone from a poor performing school to the private school down the street? Second, the private schools "perform" better (kids make better grades on tests) than public schools because they are selective in who they accept and the kids parents are involved because they are paying.
There are exceptions to all of these critiques of charter and private schools. Some charter schools are underwritten by corporate grants - especially those with a specific focus as in science or music. We have a wonderful example here in the Villages. By almost any measure you can apply, the Villages Charter Schools are exceptional.
So, what do we need to do to improve our educational system?
Better funding - first and foremost, pay the teachers and provide better facilities.
Look closely at the issues surrounding voucher programs. Do they really make sense?
Control the expansion of charter schools. Insure that they are adhering to state and local rules regarding pay and benefits. Review curricula to make sure that the basics are included.
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