Monday, June 06, 2005

A Reasonable Question 

Reader Mrs. T (love your pierogies!) asks a reasonable question in the comments at the last post:
"What do you guys think of the idea that people that don't have school age children shouldn't have to pay for public schools? Or the idea that you could choose how to use your tax money and have the ability to put it toward a private school, which would make it MUCH more affordable for single moms/dads etc?"
I think this is an important question, and how we view education in this country depends on what we do with it in the next couple generations. More than that, the kind of work force we will have, and the quality and amount of innovation, creative endeavor, and scientific breakthrough we can expect from those who come after us will absolutely reflect how we answer this question, and how we back up that answer with our money and public will.

My personal feeling is that kids are a national resource, just as much as minerals, timber, and a clean environment. We are all affected for better or worse by the legacy we leave our children. The poorly educated may become a drain on the national economy because they can't afford health insurance or to maintain the neighborhoods in which they live. They may fall into crime, costing money for their upkeep after they are imprisoned, or they may be unable to buy many of the things our consumer economy depends on the marketing of. Their need to take bottom-level jobs drags down the general standard of living and the incentive for employers to pay more throughout the economy.

Because the maintenance of a national resource is the responsibility of everyone who benefits from or is affected by it, the education of citizens is the duty of a decent government and of the individuals from whom that government derives its authority. (Laughable words during the reign of the Dauphin, I know.) That's a public duty, and it means public education. When public education is abandoned, which is what Grover Norquist has in mind, only the rich will be able to afford a decent education. Right now, conservatives are playing with the concept that public education is no longer a right of US citizens. Perhaps life or liberty may be on the chopping block next, if we wait long enough.

And if you think your tax money, diverted from your paycheck into a private account for private education, will suffice to buy one, you're sadly delusional. Private schools, even parochial schools, are vastly more expensive than the average percentage of tax one pays toward education, on local, state and federal levels combined. I know, because once upon a time I cherished the idea of getting my kid out of public school, and found it far beyond my means.

Add to this the further elimination of financial aid sources, and it will become even more important to have a healthy income to get an education. When we are talking about a need so fundamental to life--the access to a decent education--we are talking about a right so basic that to abandon our responsibility as citizens to provide it is just the first step toward the utter abdication of any sense of community whatever.

But that's my opinion. What's yours?

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