Monday, March 10, 2008

Public Schools and Humming for Dollars

Letter of the Week honors go to my old friend Charlotte Hummel, William Penn School District Board member and partisan Democratic activist.

After congratulating St. Cyril's catholic school in Lansdowne for staying open and wishing it "great success," Ms. Hummel, once again, seeks to 'educate' the "public about public education." What would we do without her?

She fears our readers might have been misled by a recent editorial that said parochial schools do their work without taxpayer help.

Ms. Hummel writes:

"All taxpayers do indeed help the parochial schools. There are taxpayer-funded services provided to students who attend religious schools, including transportation and certain special-educational services.

"Moreover, as non-profit organizations, parochial schools and their sponsoring parishes are tax exempt and donations to those entities are tax deductible."

She is, of course, correct that schools like St. Cyril's get this sort of help from the taxpayers. They get it, though, after many years of fighting for it politically. Why, the parents of Catholic school kids, asked should all their tax dollars go to supporting government schools when certain government services should be made available to all children regardless of where their parents chose to send them to school?

It was a powerful enough argument to force state legislators to recognize the concerns raised.

Still and to this day, however, people who send their kids to private and parochial schools don't get nearly the "help" that public school institutions get.

Teachers unions and organizations like the Pennsylvania State Education Association jealously guard the resources that accrue to their schools and constantly demand more.

While good, small Catholic schools like are allowed to fail for lack of resources, large, lousy public schools are kept kept in business and are allowed to stay large and lousy.

Ms. Hummel complains it is only because of the unequal distribution of resources that some public schools are as bad as they are. The public knows better.

Writes Ms. Hummel:

"Those of us who want the best possible education for all children are not served when one system or choice is pitted against the other."

Really? Since when? Rarely has competition in this country not helped to improve a particular good or service. While government-supported monopolies serve the interests of a few (like government teachers and their unions) competition and free markets serve the interests of the many. Ms. Hummel, in a fashion of a government bureaucrat, claims otherwise.

It is no thanks to her and other critics of school choice that schools like St. Cyril's manage to stay open. It is only thanks to the heroic efforts of certain parents, teachers, administrators and private-sector community leaders. Other such schools continue to close in numbers too depressing to recount.

In the meantime, Ms. Hummel's school district receives tens of millions of dollars from state and local taxpayers to remain a going concern while NOT providing the "best possible" education to "all children."

"If," Ms. Hummel writes, "our public schools are not as good as they should be, it is 'we the people' who need to take responsibility and act accordingly in the choices we make when it comes to those who are supposed to represent us in this important work."

Exactly. And supporting school "choice" with more taxpayer dollars might be one way to do this.

Clearly though, when Ms. Hummel refers to "those who are supposed to represent us," she means people like, well, herself. And, of course, the public school teachers whose interests she takes so much to heart.

Nothing against those teachers, many of whom work heroically themselves to try to teach in environments less conducive to learning than they ought to be.

But once again, Ms. Hummel shows she has a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes schools work. Money is essential to the existence of schools but not determinative in how successful they are.

And all the money in the world won't help some school districts, as Federal Judge Russell Clark proved back in the 1980s when he showered the Kansas City, Mo. district with hundreds of millions of dollars to no avail in improved academic achievement.

Maybe it is time to give choice and competition more of a chance.

The charter school movement is one step. Vouchers would be another. But they will only come over Ms. Hummel's politically dead body and the corpses of union leaders.


Anonymous randal said...

Much of the problem with Education as a whole is all the partisan Democrat activists on school boards. And then we expect these LibDems to negotiate in good faith with fellow Lib teacher unions on behalf of the taxpayers? Ha. Not likely.
First thing we need to do is bust teacher unions and outlaw teacher strikes. Then we'll move on from there. Because nothing is ever going to get fixed so long as this loaded structure is in place.

March 10, 2008 at 10:55 AM 
Anonymous r said...

Next, we need to stop the rampant abuses of Special Education that too many urban folks have come to misuse in order to extort more spending for their precious babies and their schools while stealing much needed resources from others. We need to change what qualifies as “special ed”. Merely being a minority or low income or “at risk” or “disadvantaged” –or any other contrived apologist Lib terms- hardly makes a kid need special education, nor does it justify the added expenditures that send every urban school budget into turmoil. But apologist Libs in power don’t want to hear such talk and do all they can to stifle it. A couple years ago the Special Ed teacher at Strath Haven spoke up about these abuses and he nearly lost his job over it.

March 10, 2008 at 12:29 PM 

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