Rhonda Wesolowski: 'Scholarship' plan perverts public education, Concord Monitor, 3/14/12

posted Mar 14, 2012, 6:43 AM by Bill Duncan

Published on Concord Monitor (http://www.concordmonitor.com)

'Scholarship' plan perverts public education
Diverting tax dollars will hurt schools

By Rhonda Wesolowski / For the Monitor
March 14, 2012

Grant Bosse wrote recently about the public education system in New Hampshire and its relation to shopping for mustard ("Public school monopoly doesn't cut the mustard," Sunday Monitor Viewpoints, March 4). To compare the education of the children of our state to jars of mustard - or to equate them to customers shopping simply for the best price - demeans them, the value of public education and the dedicated professionals who provide the quality education that allows New Hampshire students to succeed.

The education of a child can never been seen as a commodity. Students and their families are far more than simply "customers" of a school district, or trapped by their zip code. The core of public education and local control assures that the citizens of any community in New Hampshire have a seat at the board of directors table and are not subject to the stocking whims or profit goals of a store manager, to continue Bosse's example.

Moreover, a customer is expected to pay in full for goods and services. Very few families in New Hampshire can afford to pay the full price for K-12 education. That's why, for more than 100 years, the public has collectively supported the education of its children. For that support, the public sits on locally and democratically elected school boards and votes on the budget and expenditures of the school district. Public education means the public owns the store - they are not powerless shoppers.

Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, stated on a recent "Exchange" program on NHPR that "at the core of this issue is a fundamental question about whether public education is an overall public good that should be controlled by all citizens - or is it a private right of every parent. Now, historically, for well over 100 years in our country, one of our greatest assets has been the public's control over public education. Whether a citizen has a child or not, or ever will, they have a good interest in whether we have an educated citizenry. And that, I think, is what's at the core here. Bills such as HB 542 "certainly fracture the belief that all children deserve a quality education that is publicly controlled."

Bosse's folksy analogy to shopping for mustard, along with his providing the names of the local sponsors of these bills, obscures the fact that this legislation is part of a much broader national initiative to dismantle and de-fund public education in America, much of it authored by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC's goal is simple: privatize public education and replace student achievement goals with corporate profit goals. Its plan details many ways in which to accomplish this, including the introduction of vouchers (renamed "scholarships"), tax incentives for sending children to private schools, charter schools operated by for-profit entities and giving tax dollars to parents who home-school their children. The motivation for dismantling the public education system - creating a system where schools do not provide for everyone - is ideological, and motivated by profit.

The corporate members on ALEC's education task force include representatives from the Friedman Foundation, Goldwater Institute, Evergreen Education Group, Washington Policy Center, and corporations providing education services such as Sylvan Learning and K-12 Inc. All stand to benefit from public funding sent in their direction. Make no mistake: If public education were to become private, profits would always come before student achievement.

The optimistically named School Choice Scholarship Act perverts the very idea of public education. The private donations Bosse describes are not donations at all but are a diversion of tax dollars away from the state treasury and into an account to fund private, religious and home schools. In making this "donation," the private business is excused from paying its entire tax bill. No matter how they try to dress it up, diverting dollars that should have been paid in taxes to fund public education de-funds and dilutes public education and will result in a diminishment in the scope of services provided to all the children of New Hampshire.

Voucher supporters used to assert that students got a better education in private schools, but the data showed that that did not happen. So advocates now say the benefits will be in the impact of competition on the public schools. This is ideologically attractive, but it has not turned out to be true either. There is no study that demonstrates that competition from voucher or tax credit programs materially improves the public schools.

And New Hampshire schools are doing quite well. Along with Massachusetts, New Hampshire's fourth-graders have the highest math performance in the country. We have the highest proportion of "proficient" and "advanced" students in the country. And 92 percent of our students achieve "basic" or better. Our eighth-graders were third in the country. We get similar great results in all our tests and even compare well on a world-wide basis.

The New England Common Assessment Program is what the state uses to measure students' grade level achievement in every grade from third to eighth and again in the 11th grade. It is a more challenging and detailed assessment of student performance. New Hampshire is the best performing of the four participating states in most categories almost every year.

Bosse attended Hillsboro-Deering public schools and graduated from Dartmouth College. The system he is so ready to abandon in the name of corporate profits seems to have served him quite well without the unchecked influence of for-profit corporations.

We have a school system in New Hampshire to be proud of. The Legislature should protect and improve it, not denigrate and de-fund it.

(Rhonda Wesolowski is president of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association.)

Source URL: http://www.concordmonitor.com/article/317056/scholarship-plan-perverts-public-education