BY DAVID PERRYMAN
While grilling burgers a few days ago, I retreated inside to escape the heat and caught the end of a story about an air conditioner in a car. Although the vehicle was fundamentally sound except for the a/c, the cost of the repair was excessive. The real story was that there was something fundamentally wrong about driving a Lexus without cool air.
I envisioned a family trying to avoid the “humiliation” of being seen in a Lexus with the windows down, trying to foster the perception of wealth by driving around in the heat with the windows up. That would be a foolish, uncomfortable charade.
However, as our children return to school this month, groups that want to divert tax money to private and charter schools are working non-stop to give you a perception that vouchers and education savings accounts do not harm public schools. As illustrated by Diane Ravitch in her recent national bestseller, Reign of Error, the privatization movement is perpetuating a hoax that is endangering America’s public schools.
Ms. Ravitch, appointed by both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to educational posts, concisely shows how school “choice” and “privatization” movements are diverting funding from our public schools and exposes “manufactured agenda” of corporate reformers who juggle statistics in an attempt to discredit public schools and fabricate a false perception that private and charter schools are better at educating children.
In reality, National Assessment of Education Progress [NAEP] tests show that public schools have steadily and consistently improved math and reading scores over the past 45 years. NAEP data also shows that more than 40% of the variation in average reading scores and more than 46% of the variation in average math scores is associated with variation in child poverty rates.
Of course, private schools and corporate charter school sponsors would be unable to motivate voters to elect anti-public education officials if voters knew the truth. So the voucher and choice folks hype private schools as superior and charter schools as more efficient while bashing public schools and – never realizing the harm that is done to students across the state – voters line up and elect their candidates.
The anti-public education Legislature allows vouchers and education savings accounts to be used to divert millions of tax dollars to private or quasi-private institutions whose students are not reflective of the community, whose teachers are not certified and earn even less than public school teachers, and are run by highly paid corporate executives as administrators whose bosses are not elected and who are not accountable to voters.
In 1907, John Dewey, noted American philosopher and educational reformer, said, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.”
According to a November 2014 article in the Atlantic, private high school tuition ranges from $18,600 per year in the south to over $35,000 in New England. If those who support diverting funds from Oklahoma’s public schools believe that is the cost of a “quality” education, then why do they insist on further suppressing Oklahoma’s $7,600 per pupil public school expenditure?
Oklahoma’s public teachers are doing a great job teaching in woefully underfunded schools. Some groups want to convince you otherwise so that they can divert tax dollars. False perceptions destroy democracy. It doesn’t matter if they use it for private school tuition or to repair the a/c in their Lexus, it is money that is needed for public education.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives