Santa Barbara County Schools Supt. Bill Cirone has penned an excellent commentary on the value of public education. In the fewest words possible — we can’t live without public schools.
That seems a perfect counterpoint to the inclinations of President Trump, a beneficiary of private education, and his appointee as Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Their zeal to steer tax dollars away from public schools to a voucher system is a clear and present danger to public education.
America is divided on public vs. private education. Much of the argument is predicated on class distinctions, and by that we mean social class, not the kind hosting students.
Cirone points out that April is, among other important things, Public Schools Month, providing an outstanding opportunity to celebrate public education. Cirone goes on to explain that Public Schools Month is “designed to remind people that public schools embody the great American promise of equality of opportunity for all and that they are the cornerstones of a democratic society …”
Unfortunately, too many politicians see public schools as an albatross hanging around the neck of American education. Somehow the concept that every citizen should be entitled to equal educational opportunities has escaped those who want to funnel tax dollars toward privately-operated schools.
In contrast to the Trump administration’s push for privatized schools, the New York state Legislature has approved the nation’s largest experiment in free education at the college level. The law commits New York taxpayers to fund about $163 million a year to pay tuition costs for students in the state’s massive State University of New York System, one of the world’s largest with more than 1.3 million students.
Critics point out that the New York plan covers only the tuition part of the costs of attending college. Books, fees, food, housing and incidental expenses remain the responsibility of the student.
Still, New York’s experiment seems a decent start toward what many educators see as a Utopian dream — the goal of educating every citizen at public expense.
The roadblocks to such an ideal are many. There is the notion held by many that education is like any other business, and should be subject to free-market pressures and fluctuations. The business model makes some sense, but it overlooks the fact that a basic education is the bedrock of any organized society, and educated workers strengthen the local, regional, state and national economies.
The New York experiment is also bolstered by innovations in higher education, specifically the accelerating shift toward online classes, which helps eliminate some of the costs related to maintaining a massive bricks-and-mortar college campus infrastructure. The day will come when college campuses, as we’ve known them for generations, will be relics, and in smart communities, repurposed to other uses.
The internet also offers the opportunity for innovation in the formats and processes of a high school education. Kids seem to learn faster online than sitting at a small desk in a stuffy classroom, which has every bit as many distractions as studying at home.
As Cirone so correctly points out, Public Schools Month gives us a fine opportunity to consider the future of education, and how expanding its use to all economic levels in our society can only be a good thing.
The next few years are pivotal for public education. The turmoil of national politics is casting a shadow over institutions we have known and trusted all of our lives. So, there is an element of suspense.
Meanwhile, let’s use Public Schools Month to thank teachers and administrators who make public education work.