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  Education > Pedagogics
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Education Information: School choice vouchers

Not everyone has a choice when it comes to selecting the right schools for their children. Financial and regional considerations prevent some parents from having school choices.

Public schools no longer meet the needs of all students in our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society. Some Congressional leaders recognize this and have proposed changes to our educational policies.

What are the choices? Within the public school system there are magnet and charter schools which offer more diverse curriculum. Then there are private schools run by religious groups as well as private organizations. And finally there is homeschooling which is legal in most of the states.

Unfortunately not everyone has a choice when it comes to selecting the right school for their children. Financial and regional considerations prevent some parents from having full school choice. This is particularly true in the inner-city where students are often crammed into over-crowded schools which don't meet their educational needs.

Another problem is transportation. The public school system in many areas offer school choice but not free transportation. Having an open school, school choice policy is great but without transportation it is futile. Many working couples, and parents who are not financially well off, cannot provide transportation for their children to go to alternative schools.

It is an age old problem that parents who chose private or parochial school, do so at their own expense for both tuition and transportation. Does this come under the category of separation of church and state? Parents disagree. They pay taxes which are used for public schools which according to a Congressional report are often substandard, especially in the cities. They are heavily taxed through the government, state and municipality for schools they may not use.

Ironically, most political leaders send their children to private school. They can afford the added expense that other parents can not. This creates a separation between economic groups which creates a divided country of the haves and have nots.

True educational benefit requires provision for real choice. Not every school is right for every child, and a child's needs change over the years. The early years might be enjoyable in a public preschool or kindergarten. Later on the parent might prefer homeschooling or a private school. The decision should be based not on politics, but on the child's needs.

Every one, middle class and the working poor, should be able to choose their school. Experts believe this will provide a catalyst to improve the public school system which according to national test scores hasn't been doing a good job in the cities. The public school is hampered by the unions and the outdated existence of tenure.

Any time a school board wants to change the system for the children's benefit, they come up against the union. Teachers' salaries are the first and most expensive part of public school education. Enhancement salary programs such as the one in Connecticut were meant to attract better teachers, and keep outstanding teachers. It backfired when older teachers refused to take retirement. Teachers with tenure who were not effective, could not be replaced without a prolonged court battle initiated by the union.

School boards differ across the country. At a recent meeting the head of the board asked the assembly, "Who should decide on the curriculum for students?" The teachers in attendance all voted for teachers to make this decision. The traditional public school system today divorces parents from planning and curriculum.

Private schools ask for and receive parent input through volunteer boards and committees.

Public schools teach curriculum which violates the religious and moral principles of some parents. Private school offers parents more input into the course of study.

What is the answer? Put aside political speeches, and get down to the bare bones.What is best for the children? Don't force children whose parents have limited financial resources to attend public school. Politicians do this all the time claiming school choice would undermine the public school system. Competition in schools, just like in business, can lead to better education.

If parents had vouchers to permit them to put their children in private schools, you can bet the school board would have been more receptive to parents' complaints. They would listen to parents rather than lose the kids to private school. Without vouchers the public school system remains a monopoly.

The function of the state is to ensure that education is available to all and to respect and defend freedom of instruction. But when the state maintains a monopoly there is no choice. The state becomes totalitarian in its approach to education. This volates the fundamental rights of parents and students. It also undermines our ideals of a democracy.

The bottom line is that families should be able to choose the best schools for their children, and children should be able to go to schools because they want to be there not because the state requires it.

There might be a lot less drop-out if students could select the school which offered the program they were interested in studying. Not all kids are academics. Some would do best in technical schools. Some should be in art schools. The list goes on but the choices are limited.

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