Thursday, September 15, 2016

Is the Republican Party Anti-Public Education?

Much of the discussion surrounding public education seems to center around party ideologies, and one might conclude that the Republican Party is, in fact, in favor of a unilateral dismantling of public education.  Without question, there are some who fall under that umbrella but I still hold out hope that we can get to a point where decisions made by those elected to serve us focus on the needs of those impacted by their decisions irrespective of the personal impact and criticism they might receive.

That perspective is maybe too optimistic.  After all, legislators begin campaigning for reelection almost immediately upon being sworn it.  This is certainly more the case in the House than the Senate given the length of their terms.  One only need watch the discussion in our state, however, to realize that what is important to many legislators isn't the impact on students but the personal impact.  Whether tied to a party platform or to those who might impact their desire to receive specific committee appointments, it's clear that decisions are often made with regard for the collateral damage on those they are supposed to serve.

As we listen to the discussions in Austin now, there is a faction that is proposing what they call school reform or school choice.  Remember, however, that public education is a form of school choice; as public education advocates, we have to keep that consideration front and center.  This faction uses what they consider to be the very small number of failing schools as a reason to change the entire system that has served our country so well.  But at the heart of this, in my opinion, is a desire to effect change for change sake rather than truly trying to address the challenges of those schools.

While not unique, here is a thought.  Let's assume that campuses serving 5% of our student population are not meeting the education standards we all desire.  That means that about 500,000 students are in school environments that fall short of state requirements.  Some would suggest that the need is to focus on the small number at the expense of the other 95% of the student population.  If, for a moment, we were to consider education savings grants, aka vouchers, as a way to address the issues, do we take the time to consider how that impacts 95% of our student population?  By pulling dollars from public education, this surely will impact the entire student population.  And that may well be the intent of the school reform movement.

Since the school reform discussion is largely being led by Republicans, one could conclude that the party is opposed to public education.  Other than a select few who bang the drum of school reform, there is not a widespread effort to dismantle public education.  While concerned that the trend toward school reform is stronger now, and gaining momentum each session, I believe that there is sufficient support for public education in both parties and that, with continued advocacy, public education will remain a priority.  It's up to us, as public education advocates, to tell the story and to help the majority of the members in the Republican Party understand the need to Make Education a Priority.

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