Replacing the Public School System with Vouchers won’t Save Middle Class Kids
Updated: Jun 26
Just a normal teacher?
As a public school teacher and President of the Buncombe County Association of Educators in Asheville, North Carolina, Shanna Peele faces the challenges created by defunding efforts that many public school teachers face across America.
She is married with three kids. Her husband has a good job with benefits. But it’s a tough road. She pays for health insurance for herself. Her three kids are on Medicaid because she can’t afford to pay the monthly premium for health insurance coverage that the district offers.
She qualifies for food benefits for women with infants and children (WIC) and for free and reduced-fee school lunches. She has gone to the local food bank near the end of the month when things are tight.
Like teachers across the country, Ms, Peele has paid for school supplies for her students from her own pocket or used online funding campaigns to do so, hoping for the good will of others to help.
Hers is a labor of love, but she can’t win financially or teach to the best of her ability because education budgets are insufficient, leaving a bare bones staff and fewer teaching materials.
Solutions for the Underaffiliated spoke with Ms. Peele about the challenges she faces as a teacher and how she believes we can take advantage of opportunities to improve our approach to public education.
This editorial summarizes that conversation and provides perspective to show the interdependencies and misconceptions related to public education, and potential opportunities for untangling them. Unless noted, It does not necessarily reflect Ms. Peele’s words or thoughts.
Understand social drivers of health
State legislatures can make budget decisions that do not align with stated national educational principles, nor reflect the wants and needs of local communities because they have more power than the federal government and local districts over public school funding.
They are not redistributing public school funding from districts to families because it is costly for taxpayers. The percentage of taxes that people pay for public education is typically less than five percent of their gross income. Check out this link. It shows the average percent of total income that goes to public education.
The move to defund public schools started with the realization that some schools were flailing. Many believe schools fail because of the bad choices of parents, teachers and even the kids who live and teach in the communities they serve.
Holding funds over their heads was supposed to instill more accountability. But public schools fail because the communities they serve fail, and that is due to social forces, not choices.
Unhealthy food and/or food deserts, few job opportunities and low wages, lack of transportation, poor healthcare coverage, and unaffordable housing lead to neighborhoods filled with chronic illness, substance abuse, and violent crime.
That leads to households in crisis. These families struggle to pay bills, buy groceries and get to school, work or the doctor. They are more likely to be characterized by trauma, domestic violence, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Of course the schools in these economically distressed places underperform.
Further, because public schools are partly funded by local taxes, when the tax base doesn’t pay a lot in taxes, schools don’t get much funding.
That leads to budget cuts — or at least frozen funding — which means bus drivers, classroom support, office staff, nutritionists, counselors and other unclassified workers lost their jobs.
That’s not the end.
Kids from these environments come to school tired, hungry, anxious, depressed, angry, all leading to an inability to focus and disruptive behavior.
So now it’s not just that the schools are failing. Parents don’t like their “good” kids having ti deal with the “bad” kids, who happen to be poor and — mostly — Black.
If they could afford to, parents pulled their kids from public schools, which left poor families behind.
Any people thought that it wasn’t fair that wealthy families could do that, though, especially since tax dollars pay for the public schools.
Vouchers allow parents to take their public school tax funds to schools outside of their districts to pay for private or charter schools. Already isolated and impoverished communities lost the most reliable way to move up the economic ladder.
No wonder the idea of de-funding schools comes across as racist. The most-impacted tend to be poor and that tends to be Black and Indigenous people and people of color.
Now, many are making the argument that public school curricula, with its “inappropriate” books, critical race theory and gender-based modules, needs to change, so school choice and therefore voucher programs should accelerate.
Parents put their kids in private schools because they want their kids to get the type of education they believe in (often faith-based), the education is in fact better, or to ensure their kids are not confronted with disruptive behavior from their peers,
However, it is not clear that giving these families more choice will provide the opportunities state governments are promising. The wealth gap has left more white kids in households struggling to make ends meet.
At the end of the day, parents put their kids in private school based on whether they can afford it. Having a voucher in a fixed amount has limited value if wages don’t increase to meet the increasing costs of private schools.
As more kids enter private schools, prices will go up because those schools will need to attract and retain teachers and staff, educational programs, and class materials and supplies to match demand.
Unless parents can afford private school costs above the voucher value, or state legislatures raise taxes to make them worth more, vouchers will not guarantee access to college or a better life.
A more equal economy seems required — but that’s a different discussion.
How to make public education an engine for American success
Public education fuels democracy, innovation and economic growth. Why not be the best at it by re-establishing a unified view of public education, fostering collaborative problem-solving, and investing in people to help them become more productive.
Without a unified view of beliefs about the purpose of public education, The United States will struggle to move forward and be governed.
Public education has always been a form of indoctrination. Get over it. It should teach the same thing to all students across the country. By doing so, it can unify Americans around a common sense of purpose and understanding of science, history, justice, economic principles, critical thinking and social sciences.
The issue is that, many are suggesting that we use that power to indoctrinate young people to exclude facts and only mention one religion, gender, and race in an all-knowing, powerful, and positive light. Many say they don’t want kids to feel guilty or to hate America, so we should not talk about what white men did to other races and women that was unjust.
That says we don’t trust ourselves or our kids to be able to handle bad news and grow from it.
By broadening our thinking and knowledge to include more people and histories, we stay consistent with what a democracy means. Otherwise, we limit what we allow to be taught, which is rule by minority belief. That is not democracy.
Second, let’s challenge ourselves and fund a public school education for our children that promotes working together to strengthen our democracy, so that we can peacefully resolve differences.
The best way to do that is to provide as many perspectives and facts as possible for kids and help them to navigate the challenges of reconciling them.
The result would be an empathic, collaborative, and innovative society because we all would draw on different perspectives and ideas, which leads to superior outcomes.
Businesses use collaboration across departments and teams to develop new solutions and more efficient operations. Many Americans say they want the government to act lie a business.
Why not teach collaboration and opposing views like in a business?
Third, invest in people, activities and technology for all students to help the country to grow and make it more resilient.
When we de-fund the public education system, we are simply increasing costs on society overall and weakening our own workforce, resulting in what amounts to an under-performing-because-it’s-underfunded department or business unit.
That limits productivity of the overall country. We already know that weak schools and neighborhoods lead to crime, disease, and overall decay and unproductive, costly behavior.
Imagine that the United States was a business and Americans were shareholders. Managers — state legislators — would be fired for defunding its assets (people), letting them fail, not doing anything to optimize their performance, and therefore creating a social and financial burden for the entire organization. Listen to the discussion