Opinion and Viewpoint

HENDERSON: The great school massacre of 2011

February 5, 2011

LeCrone mugWhat a great way to slime our public school education infrastructure: educational vouchers.

We moan and complain about schools, administrators and teachers—and of course, their cost. We change their funding appropriation, squeezing, ever squeezing, until some school systems simply pop. Mandates—be they federal, state, county or district—hang over administrator’s heads. Every parent wants to get the best education for their children. Vouchers aren’t going to do this. Instead, they’re going to help destroy public schools, perhaps for generations.

Part of the vouchers rationale is an overt attempt to bust teacher unions. How droll. Teacher unions are made out to be great blood-sucking satans, ready to wave their employment and pension contract rules in front of you, rather than educate your children. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers cost money. It’s time to face that fact and attract the best teachers we can find. Buildings don’t teach. Multimillion-dollar football stadiums don’t teach. Teachers teach. And they cost money.

I watched my six brothers and sisters, along with my six children and stepchildren, make it through Indiana public school systems. They’ve done very well. Their list of accomplishments is long. The Indiana Legislature slaps the very face of every hard-working teacher, administrator and student by embracing the thought that people will run like there’s a fire from the public school systems into the waiting arms of “better schools.”

Somehow, a local reality distortion field appeared that proffered the mistaken belief that education is like business and can be outcomes-based, as though children were little profit centers. Educational processes aren’t like business processes. Educational goals are unique to every individual and are measured using a vastly different set of metrics and personal motivations.

Since the inception of the great state of Indiana, we’ve guaranteed a free and public education to students. In Indianapolis, we finally delivered that guarantee in the 1970s to African-American students by desegregating Indianapolis Public Schools. An opposition platform to busing to achieve desegregation at that time was known as the “Neighborhood Schools” platform. School vouchers have a chance of backsliding desegregation, as especially in the surrounding counties, neighborhoods are mightily segregated. Welcome back, Jim Crow.

I arrived into this life on the day when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Brown vs. Kansas City Board of Education decision, which declared that the tenet of separate-but-equal education was unconstitutional. Vouchers are highly likely to fragment education “purchases” into racial and socio-economic factions. Part of the gift of public—and therefore publicly funded—education is to be with people who aren’t like you, from different cultures and backgrounds, and later in college education, different communities, states and countries. Don’t even think about the constitutionality of using vouchers for parochial schools. We’ve been through that.

Our Stars-and-Bars legislative mentality would have us decimate public schools, bust those pesky unions and spawn dozens of schools—rather than uplift our investment in public schools by giving them needed and consistent funding and mission. We might do the public-school constituents a favor and fund teacher and administrator pensions, but that might be asking too much. Heaven forbid that we should raise taxes to meet our pension-funding needs in the way Illinois has done.

Instead, let’s show Illinois businesses how cheap it is to be in Indiana. We don’t need any of those pesky obligations funded. We squeeze schools until our children are stupid enough to work in your factories for minimum wages! No goals toward environmental responsibility and sustainability here. Just park your business and we’ll be happy to leech our little crumbs from the taxes your employees will have to pay.

The mind reels.•

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Henderson is managing director of ExtremeLabs Inc., a Bloomington computer analysis firm.

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