Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Vouchers Vs. Real Change

School Vouchers.

This new Republican "hot topic" is really a clever way to make the Dems who oppose it look bad, and feel even worse. After all, who doesn't want to give good kids in failing school systems a fighting chance? If we say we are anti-voucher we are painted as evil, unsympathetic kid-haters. There are an enormous number of reasons why school voucher programs are a really, really bad idea. And I invite you to read this article about the current voucher program proposed by Frank Corte to see why.

And then, in order to take that bad taste out of your mouth, read Larry Stallings' position paper on public education. This is a PDF file, so feel free to save it to your hard drive and print copies to share if you so desire.

But the one thing I really want to address, personally, is all this hand wringing over failed public schools.

I went to a school, that not even five years before, had been classified a failed public school. By the time I got there, it was still a poor, urban school but it was no longer failing.

But the real story is in how the district turned this school around. Because they did only one thing differently.

They paid for the very best teachers.

The school was still shabby, the paint was still peeling, and you would be hard pressed to find a computer on campus anywhere. It was overcrowded, with not enough desks on campus for each student to have one in every class. We shared books. And there was still some racial tension. But the district, with the limited funding they had available to turn this school around, put their money in the best place they possibily could.

They put it in teacher's salaries.

They recruited the very best teachers from all over the district and gave them higher salaries to work at this school. The teachers, in turn, changed the whole dynamic of how the school operated.

They went after grant monies to bring in new educational programs and helped parents and students organize fund raisers in order to bring in even more. Let me tell you what some of these grants and fundraisers allowed me, as a ghetto public school student, to do.

At age 14, I was isolating and mapping DNA. At age 15, I was one of the very select few to gain an internship at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. At age 16, I traveled with classmates to Ashland, Oregon to see several plays at the famous Shakespeare Festival. At age 17, I was taking college level courses sponsored by the local community college both on and off campus. During all of these years, I traveled all over the state with the Drama Club, Speech Club, and Model United Nations presenting speeches and papers and winning numerous awards. I took two Advanced Placement classes and scored so high on both that I didn't have to take any English or any History classes in college. In fact, every single student in my AP English class passed the AP exam. I learned to write so well, that I got an A on every paper I ever wrote in college, while others struggled with the college-level writing requirements I had already mastered.

None of this is designed to brag on myself. The credit goes to a handful of passionate teachers and administrators who worked all day, and stayed up all night writing grants so I could do these amazing things.

So I say thank you to the teachers who gave me an excellent start; and the state and local school district that didn't give up on a failing inner city school by throwing vouchers around which would have destroyed my school. Thank you to everyone who fought for the public education system. I would have had none of these experiences if it hadn't been for educators and local politicians who believed in public schools.

This is why I am so thrilled about the candidates we have running this year. Both Larry Stallings and John Courage have experience as educators and believe in supporting our teachers and saving our public schools.

We have new leaders presenting real alternatives to killing our school systems with voucher programs and other bad plans. I hope you take the time to read about some of these alternatives and consider them when you vote next November.

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