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Tuesday, March 28, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 120

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Education reform won't benefit the poor 

Brandon Moeller

When it came time for my twin brother and me to enter a school system, my parents, wanting the best for us, enrolled us in Catholic school. After the second grade, my parents could no longer afford to give us a private education and we were enrolled in public school.

In the third grade, I was one of the smartest in my class. I don't feel so smart anymore, and I blame it all on the public school system.

If it weren't for all those lousy public schools, I'd understand Shaun Salnave's Chaucer jokes. I'd know where Mexico is on the map, and I would be able to balance my checkbook. 

But I can't hold the public school system accountable for my ignorance. Learning is achieved when a person is determined to gain knowledge. 

The beauty of public education is that public schools are required by law to try their hardest to educate everyone who registers. This means they cannot hold any bias towards race, creed, gender, physical disabilities, academic achievement, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status or other things that private schools can and do discriminate upon, with the full protection of the law.

Private schools are predominatly religious. Public schools used to be able to teach religious philosophy, but all of that changed when the Supreme Court formally separated the church from the state. The highest court made this ruling because although the dollar bill may say, "One nation under God," it is not up to the public school system, funded by taxes, to declare who's God and who's not. That is, if there is one at all. 

This, among other things, is why education reform like the proposed voucher programs won't work. Education is a business that deals with very impressionable minds and one religion should not be given priority in publicly funded curriculums. Private schools still have full control over what they teach, who they allow into their schools and whether or not to participate in voucher programs.

Some see voucher programs as a cure-all for public schools that are failing at training students to pass state mandated exams, like the TAAS. The voucher's purpose is to give poor students attending such schools a voucher worth the amount of money it costs to educate each pupil in the failing school. Students can use these vouchers for a private education, or they can be used for continued public education. The voucher proposals are usually portrayed by the politicians supporting them as a way to give the poor, especially minorities, the same chance as the middle class. 

Voucher programs won't help the poor. In fact, it would probably hurt them the most. It would take more money away from the already underfunded urban districts and would probably only help the middle class. Program proponents know this and have admitted to it. In order to receive a voucher in Milwaukee, a family must be at or below the state poverty level and the school must be failing state-mandated achievement standards.

Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist wants to provide such vouchers for all children. In the face of fairness, this would be right, but it could lead to the collapse of the entire public school system. The extended program would help the rich or moderately rich get a discounted, private education that they would have paid for anyway. The poor will not be able to afford the additional cost of private education, and if they could, might not even be accepted into the private schools. 

The education of a young student is still dependent on the student's parents and, more importantly, the student. 

George W. Bush has been an advocate of such voucher programs, and the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to make a significant ruling regarding the controversial issue. 

Milwaukee is home of the first and longest lasting voucher program. Yet there are many disadvantages to attending a private voucher school in Milwaukee. These schools do not have to abide by open meetings and records laws, give state tests similar to TAAS or hire certified teachers. 

And if you have a physical disability in Milwaukee, you're out of luck if you want to take that voucher to a private school. Voucher schools in Milwaukee claim they do not have to provide the services the disabled need.

Private religious schools may encourage discipline through Bible study; however, the local Lutheran high school in Tomball (where I am from) was often a haven for those students who were kicked out of the public schools due to discipline problems. 

The Milwaukee voucher program was upheld by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1997 and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. A Florida state judge recently shot down Gov. Jeb Bush's voucher plan because it violated the state's constitution. A Federal Court judge declared Cleveland's existing voucher program was a violation of the U.S. Constitution, because it mixed church and state. Dozens of other states are considering similar programs, and it is expected that the issue will be on California ballots in November. 

Voucher program advocates say these programs promote marketplace values. Let us not forget that such marketplace values include favoring those with money, power and privilege ... at the expense of the poor. 

Moeller, a sophomore communication major, 
can be reached at brandonmoeller@hotmail.com. 

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