Many of my friends are conservatives who make the case
that although vouchers may not be the complete answer to what
ails our public schools, it is at least a fresh idea with
some perhaps limited promise. Same argument about charter
schools. I desperately want to throw some Democratic ideas
back at them to show that my party is not totally bereft of
fresh thinking on this subject but I don't really know of
anything the party is promoting.
Seems to me that the plight of inner city schools is
so bad that some truly revolutionary thinking may be required.
Something that goes beyond increasing the budget. Do the Democrats
have any such ideas up their sleeves?
Thanks for your thoughts!
Neither vouchers nor charter schools are the exclusive property
of the GOP. There are Democrats who advocate for each of these
ideas, and, indeed, some of the more innovative charter schools
programs (check out Minnesota's for instance) have been the
product of creative thinkers from both parties. And many people
who have no particular self-identification with either party
feel strongly about these issues, as well.
I think where the confusion enters is, as usual, in the
details. Some debaters automatically equates strong support
for a commitment to making public schools truly functional,
with being anti-voucher and/or anti-charter schools. Since
one thing that appears high on the list of talking points
for many Democratic candidates and elected officials is this
very commitment, they become (almost by default) labeled "anti-"
vouchers or charter schools. And indeed, many are. But so
are a good many members of the GOP.
It seems to break down into two main groups: I think of
them as the 'either/ors' and the 'either/boths.' Within each
of those main groups there are many subsections of widely
varied opinions and approaches.
The 'either/or' group sees the commitment of public resources
to education as being (or needing to be) limited by many constraints.
A zero-sum-game where if you need money from project A, you
have to take money from project B to pay for it. What this
means in terms of education funding is that if you spend money
on a vouchers program or a charter schools program, it will
have to come from the budget of the already-struggling public
The 'either/both' group, on the other hand, sees the commitment
to education funding as open-ended (within reason,) and believes
that it should be possible to both improve public schools
where needed, and provide options and alternatives. Such options
would be especially useful to prevent children from being
denied a decent education while the needy schools are improved.
I think there are Democrats and Republicans in both of these
groups, but there do seem to be more Republicans in the first
group, and more Democrats in the second group.
Auntie Pinko has studied the Democratic Party platforms
at local, state, and the national level for some time, and
if I may be permitted the presumption to summarize their general
tone into a generic "Democratic Party position on K-12 education,"
it would be this:
Democrats, by and large, believe that every American
child has an absolute right to a decent education. Each child
should have a safe, functional, welcoming public school, capable
of providing a good quality education, convenient to where
they live. In addition, there should be a full array of options
available to children whose individual needs cannot be met
by such schools - options that are accessible and affordable
to all children who need them, even the poorest.
Now, if the quality of those public schools is generally
good; if they are safe, welcoming places, with curricula and
teachers who can accommodate a wide array of learning styles
and ordinary needs, the need for costlier special alternatives
can be kept relatively low. But if the quality of those schools
is allowed to deteriorate, then suddenly the level of 'need'
for alternatives will balloon (as it has.)
So, is the best option at this point:
A. To shift education spending and effort from the public
schools to various alternatives, ultimately rendering the
public school system less and less adequate and viable;
B. To not shift education spending and effort from the public
schools, offering no alternatives, while we pursue a program
of change and improvement that may take decades, while many
children suffer from poor quality education; or
C. To increase the effort and spending on education and
both vigorously pursue a program of rescuing public schools
to achieve the ideal outlined above, AND offer alternatives
to ensure that today's children don't suffer from inadequate
Options A and B are the either/or approach. If you're a
Republican hellbent on making sure that no billionaire is
left behind in a program of lavish tax cuts and business subsidies,
of course you don't have the money to consider "C." And if
you're a Democrat hellbent on getting re-elected even at the
cost of endorsing dead-end public policy and ignoring the
terrible burdens of debt and inadequate public services we're
loading on our children, of course you don't have the guts
to consider "C."
But there are plenty of Democrats who are saying, loudly
and clearly, that there are worse fates than repealing lopsided
tax cuts and/or reforming the tax system. And there are plenty
of Democrats with good ideas for how to deliver on the promise
of a quality education for every child. Auntie Pinko suggests
a little time with Mr. Google's search engine to find the
ones that appeal to you most, John, and thanks for writing!
Do you have a question for Auntie Pinko?
Do political discusions discombobulate you? Are you a liberal
at a loss for words when those darned dittoheads babble their
talking points at you? Or a conservative, who just can't understand
those pesky liberals and their silliness? Auntie Pinko has
an answer for everything.
Just send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org,
and make sure it says "A question for Auntie Pinko"
in the subject line. Please include your name and hometown.