public vs. private

I happened to pick up the paper today on the way to my classroom. Our school gets a few copies everyday. I don't normally read the paper, but for whatever reason I was feeling rather old school - cause let's face it, the newspaper is becoming more and more vintage. I scanned the front page and eventually made my way to the Opinion/Perspectives section. Lo and behold there was a piece on parents and school choice.

Before I get into this, let us refresh ourselves. I am a public school teacher. I am also the product of a public school system. Okay, we can now proceed.

The writer begins by citing the history of school vouchers in our lovely state and how on its first run, the voucher bill was defeated in the House thanks to a campaign propped by a group supporting public education. There is noting of the increase in spending on public education from $4 billion in 1980 to currently $26 billion. Then in 2001 our Governor signed off on a tax credit that would allow businesses to divert portions of their state taxes to both public and private schools. It wasn't and isn't enough. The local catholic diocese show that there is a need for $11 million in assistance for those who would like to attend private schools. That spiffy tax program only covered half the tab and that is why:

Too many poor parents are unable to "sculpt the souls of their children," as Prof. John Coons of the University of California Berkeley put it, referring to those who have little or no control over their children's education. Parents with resources can choose any public, private or parochial school...School choice places children first in the educational process. It instills competition and accountability. School choice releases the creative talents of teachers and administrators. It creates the environment and generates the energy for other reforms to take root. Finally, school choice saves taxpayers money by preserving cost-effective, quality, nonpublic schools while encouraging public schools to spend more wisely and efficiently.

Okay. Let me say that I agree with this gentleman's opinion about public schools needing to spend more wisely. I work for a big urban public school machine that is facing millions in a budget deficit. Poor spending, and student decline has no doubt led us to this point. Not to mention the hurtful budget cuts that came down from the capitol. I. Get. That.

Here's what I don't get. 

Currently, the lovely neighborhood where Big Red and I live belongs to a middle of the road school district. Depending on  with whom you speak, some say our school district is a bit rough with questionable students, and others say there's not a darn thing wrong with it. What I've been able to cull through my espionage type questioning of willing neighbors is this. The school district is okay. It isn't great, not nearly as shiny and glitzy as some nearby suburban districts and it most certainly isn't the worst around. One of our neighbors owns a funeral home. He told me he has employed students from the local high school and they have been absolutely stellar. My guess is that students are going to get out of their high school experience as much as they are willing to put in.

But that goes for any school.

My biggest beef? Our local families choosing to send their children to private schools because they're worried about what may happen if their kid went to the local questionable  high school.  What is happening is that because our local district may not have the most brilliant reputation, they're opting, those who can, to send their children to the fancy places thereby creating an unbalanced population. We have some pretty nice niches feeding into this district, but those that are better off are opting to send their children elsewhere. If everyone who lived within the school district confines, actually attended the schools, the schools would have more favorable proportions among student population. There would be a more diverse range of high-achieving all the way down to the low, rather than just the magnified low. 

I'm not a parent yet and haven't walked that road. I know for damn sure Big Red and I don't have the beans to send our future little red(s) to private swanky schools. And I'm wondering if we were in the position to do so - would we? Maybe it's a bit idealistic, and maybe because I'm a public school teacher my thinking is colored such, but I'd like to believe that my little red would be better served going to school with all walks of life, not just the privileged. Going the private school route doesn't guarantee an admission to the Ivy League. I would hope that my little red would learn to negotiate more realistic settings in a public school venue. Besides, if it's trouble parents are concerned about, I got news for you. Sex and drugs exist inside the bubble, they just cost a little more.

Big Red and I are still many, many years away from having to contemplate a schooling decision. For all we know by the time we have a school-age child, there won't be so much controversy. As of now, we're both alright with a little red attending the local school. I know enough to never say never, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say we probably won't be sending our kids to a private school.

What would you do, dear reader? 
If you could make the choice and had the money to do so? 
Public or private?

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