Sorry about the lack of blogging, I’ve been down in the dumps about money concerns and job prospects, two concerns that have made it difficult to think about anything else. I can’t promise that I’ll be blogging on a regular basis, but this is definitely worth remarking on.
There are many issues at play when discussing the state of education in Wisconsin, one of which is the place for alternatives to traditional public education. Unfortunately, the administration in Madison isn’t interested in having a discussion, and is content to push an agenda.
I firmly believe that one of the things that needs to change, in the field of politics, is for opponents to take one another at their own terms. If someone says, for instance, “We need to fight in Afghanistan to stabilize the region and help foster lines of communication between the middle eastern nations and ourselves” then I think we ought to take that person at their word, whether or not they may necessarily deserve that or not. It’s the only way that the political conversation is going to be altered from its present course, since it remains difficult to have a useful conversation if the participants of that conversation are attempting to strangle one another. So, rather than accuse the governor of trying to disenfranchise minorities or the poor from education (two claims that I, at least, aren’t substantiated by the facts), lets take him at his word that he wants to foster a positive environment for education.
The problem is that such a statement, and such a belief, is not reflected in the budget. After cutting just barely less than two billion dollars from public education, the Walker administration has decided to increase funding of voucher programs, while keeping public school funding at its current (woeful) state. So, what’s the problem with this? There’s a few, but to keep it brief lets just concentrate on these two issues: the need for public education and public funding of religious programs.
I was careful to include a literal analysis of the First Amendment as my second blog post, since I consider the First Amendment to be integral to all other rights in America. Every provision in the First Amendment is very important, but the one that I want to concentrate on is the guarantee that “Congress (the government) shall make no law (a budget is a legal document) respecting the establishment of religion.” What vouchers do is pay the tuition (using public funds) for students to enter into private schools, which amounts to a once-removed funding of religious schools using public funds. This is a flat out violation of the First Amendment no matter how one looks at this issue.
Beyond the First Amendment violation, the other problem is that these private schools are, as the name implies, private. That is to say that, regardless of how much public funding goes towards these schools, they are unaccountable to the public. Public schools are far from perfect (as firm of an advocate of public schools as I am, it’s impossible for me to say that they are not flawed and in need of serious reform (serious reform, of course, does not imply shutting down troubled schools or dismantling the still very important teacher’s unions)) but their greatest advantage is also implied in the name: public. Because these schools are public, they are owned by every person in the community that they serve and are, ostensibly at least, accountable to that community. Private schools, whether they receive voucher money or not, are not accountable to the public in any way. This wouldn’t be an issue if they weren’t being held up as alternatives to public schools, and wouldn’t be an issue if they didn’t receive public funding. Private schools are perfectly within their rights of doing what they wish, so long as it doesn’t violate either the constitution or break any laws.
These issues lend credence to those who take the tack that Governor Walker is merely seeking an agenda in regards to education, that being the dismantlement of public education while pushing endorsement of religion by government, which is, once again, a blatant violation of the First Amendment. I know I’ve said that repeatedly, but it needs to be said as often as possible.
The public funding of education is one of the finest ideas that we’ve pushed forward in this country. Taking control of those schools away from the citizenry is not just an error, but it puts the entire endeavor at risk. If schools are not accountable to the population that they serve, then there’s nothing to indicate that these schools will actually act in the best interests of that population.