With President Elect Trump selecting a fervent voucher advocate for Education Secretary, it is clear where the federal direction will be for public education over the next four or eight years. In Florida, there has been a high profile attempt to get the public school unions to drop their lawsuit challenging public monies being appropriated for private school education. But in that strategy, supporters of dropping the suit have now enlisted support among minorities, the disabled, and a wide range of churches and synagogues. So you add to that both the Congress and the majority of state legislatures that are controlled by Republicans, it is clear that the future of public education is uncertain.
Many baby boomers of my age remember public education before integration in the '60's. Almost all public schools were white, but the country seemed to welcome diversity then, after passage of the various civil rights legislation. There was initial racial tension with sports enthusiasts over athletic teams changing from predominately white to predominately black. Then the Republican philosophy of individual responsibility and choice came up with vouchers as a way to get public dollars into private and parochial education. The stipends started small and have grown in number and size significantly over the years. The issue affects all of our country.
Political pundits would say the push behind vouchers is hard ball politics--push back against the teacher unions and government mandates. By most accounts, at least until the courts settle the funding issue, the voucher advocates are winning. But the story does not end there. If the direction is not changed with public schools losing public funding, we will witness a much larger 'white flight' and we will be headed right back to the segregation we thought we cured in the 60's. The potential magnitude of abandoned school facilities is a nightmare to think about. It is not hard to imagine the national discord that could result among the haves and have not's--a social tension we do not need today.
The voucher concept is not just restricted to education, but is also being proposed for funding health care, disabilities, and other social service needs by the Party in charge. My opinion is if the courts rule vouchers do not violate laws and the Constitution, we should not approach this issue piece meal, but address it in a comprehensive way. With a new Administration in 2017, I think a Public Education Summit of sorts would make sense. My guess is that between public education and social services, excluding military funding, our total dollars involved are probably over 75% of all government spending.