When nine "teachers of the year" speak out, it's a good idea to take notice—well, yes, but not for the reasons the teachers would appreciate. Earlier this week, nine award-winning teachers in Wisconsin published an opinion article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel decrying the state's school voucher program. The truth is these educators need to be a bit of schooling in arithmetic, grammar and civics.
The teachers expressed their dedication to the "teaching profession" and "to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to succeed and that they have access to a high-quality public education." These are laudable sentiments and no doubt these teachers are a credit to public education and to American society. It should be stated clearly and unequivocally that Freedom to Learn Illinois applauds dedicated educators in all schools, public and private. Nothing published on this website is meant to disparage the fine work teachers do in classrooms nationwide every day. However, as demonstrated in the article written by the nine teachers of the year, ideology can blind the smartest minds.
The teachers complain that voucher students will receive $1,000 more per year, while public education's budget will remain the same. What the teachers failed to say is that voucher students receive only 56 percent of what's spent on students in public school. If the state increased funding to voucher students by more than $5,000 a year, then the teachers could say the increase is unfair—unless $1,000 is more than $5,000 in the new math textbooks.
Worse, the teachers claim that "voucher schools siphon money away from public education." A civics lesson is in order. While the concept of public education implies public funding of education, it in no way implies that schools must be publicly run exclusively. The Supreme Court has settled the constitutionality of vouchers. It is irrelevant whether a child attends a public or private school, from viewpoint of taxpayer funding. If the child is receiving a high quality education, then public money should follow the child to the school.
Where greater barriers exist at the state level, in the form of Blaine amendments, these have proven surmountable in most cases. It's also true that Blaine amendments are the explicit product of 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry. Surely it's time to root out that legacy entirely.
State and local governments have the right and duty to set up elementary and high schools, but the public funding of these institutions does not have a higher priority than the public funding private schools dedicated to providing a quality education for all. In inner-city neighborhoods across the country, often the only schools providing a quality education are non-public schools, which struggle to stay open so they can teach the children of the poor. Where these schools can access vouchers programs, students are admitted in blind lotteries, which means non-public schools can't discriminate.
This is often disputed since many private schools don't have the facilities to educate special education students. Where this is true, it's also true that public schools receive several times (up to 10 times more) the typical voucher amount to accommodate special education students. It would be unfair to these students to attend schools without proper resources.
The teachers criticize Wisconsin's elected leaders for allegedly "abandon[ing] neighborhood public schools that welcome all children into the their doors." Since presumably all public schools are welcoming, "which" is more appropriate than "that." Another grammatical point is how painful it would be for children to be welcomed into a door. Hopefully, children are welcomed into schools through the doors. And it doesn't matter whether the doors open into a public or private school, as shown above.
"It's not too late," the teachers make their pitch for a piece of the projected $2 billion state surplus. "Wisconsin still has the opportunity to invest in public school students." Yes, investing in students is a terrific suggestion, which has been consistently made since the early days of the republic. "If a state expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization," wrote Thomas Jefferson, "it expects what never was and never will be." Since the state operates in the interests of all students, the pitch should be reworded to say: "to invest public money in all students."
At bottom is an ideological confusion about whose money and children are being considered. Neither belongs to the state. Rather, the money is given in trust to the state by taxpayers (i.e. parents, for the most part) to be used for the benefit for all children, whose parents are the taxpayers and voters. Representative democracy was not configured to be confiscatory but to facilitate the public good, which is exactly what these teachers of the year tell their students. Let's hope their mastery of social studies will soon extend to the public forum.