Our nation’s system of public education is the foundation of our children’s future and thus the nation’s future. It deserves more than sound-bite debate. It deserves a renewed national commitment – from the public and private sectors, from business, political, religious and community leaders. In this era, with a healthy economy and budgetary surpluses at state and national levels, there can be no excuse for our failure to come together to address the pressing needs of our public schools. The voucher movement distracts time and energy and political capital from this primary national purpose. Rather than investing in the public infrastructure that will build up our children and communities in the decades to come, we are talking about investing in private institutions that have no obligation to be there for our children in the future.
The good news about this entire debate is that it may bring the wider community into the discussion about education in America. We need more discussion about the plight of struggling schools in our cities and rural areas. We need to find funds to implement proven reforms that will strengthen schools that need to be strengthened. We need to build public support for policies that provide fairness and accountability to all students, even those in private schools, and we have begun to see that change written into proposed legislation. The bad news is that by diverting communities energies toward vouchers, which focus on a relative handful of children, we diminish the possibilities of making real systemic changes that can ensure that all our children have access to a quality public education.