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The U.S. Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, and I do not see the world the same way. She is interested in privatizing education to support an agenda where parents can use public monies to attend private (mostly religious, mostly Christian) schools. DeVos and her allies have supported charter schools, which have diverted much-needed resources from public education. Furthermore, DeVos’ positions on federal overreach, institutional racism, LGBTQ+ issues, school gun violence, special education funding, and college-campus assault are all cringe-worthy. In essence, Betsy DeVos represents a segment of the American population that could be included in a country western song’s lyrics: God belongs in schools, guns grant Americans liberty, and American values are white, and Christian. She contends that because billions of federal dollars spent have delivered no measurable improvement in student achievement, the government should remove itself from education and allow the free enterprise system to promote educational choice (with a publically funded voucher system).
Obviously, as a public school teacher in the great state of New York, I wholeheartedly disagree with Betsy DeVos and her supporters. As a product of public education, I know first-hand the benefits of a standardized, funded system. I participated (either as a student or as an educator) in six different public school systems in Onondaga County, located in the heart of the lake effect snow belt of central New York. I moved many times as a child, but the stability of the classroom environments in four distinct districts offered a kid from a working-class family a pathway to the American dream. I will be forever grateful to the individual teachers who created building cultures where I learned to thrive.
Now, I am a parent of two middle school-aged children. And, I am dissatisfied. I need a different choice, but I only have a few options, all extremely costly.
To my dismay, I find myself agreeing with Betsy DeVos and her lot: parents and students do need more educational freedom!
Moving is not an option for my family. To send my child to a high school that can offer her a swim team, a variety of peers from many backgrounds, interesting elective courses, highly effective teachers, and many college-credit courses, I will pay over $9000 per year. This figure is of course on top of the school tax I am already paying for the home district. In essence, my child’s zip code completely determines her educational experience. I once believed that I could mitigate the factors of going to a small, rural school with graduating classes under seventy students. I naively assumed that family vacations and swim clubs outside of the district would augment experiences in a small school. Unfortunately, for over six years my child has suffered either socially and academically in some way during each school year. The administration is unwilling to reflect on and change disciplinary habits, hiring practices, or increase oversight of teachers. The teachers have grown accustomed to that “bad” class. The same students persist in their disruptive behaviors with little consequences. This culminated effect has been one that can no longer be ignored. As my friend said: “Kids only get one chance.” My daughters only get one K-12 experience.
The market-based approach proposed by Republicans favors the entitled. The voucher system siphons off funding to public schools, perpetuating flight to “better” schools. The current system of property-based school funding segregates public schools by race and opportunities.
So, what is the solution? What recourse do parents and students have when their home school is not providing as much as the neighboring school? Why have we accepted that the location of our homes determines thirteen years of our children’s lives? My children are already in middle school. Hopefully, the solution comes sooner rather than later.