It’s not the time for vouchers

Published 7:22 pm Friday, February 13, 2009

It stands to reason that as lines at the unemployment office and the Department of Human Services increase, so will enrollment at Georgia’s public schools as parents shore up the family budget by cutting out the expense of private school tuition.

Then why are some legislators considering a voucher program that translates to $425 million bailout for private schools?

Make no mistake, there is never a good time for a voucher program like the one that Sen. Eric Johnson, (R-Savannah) is proposing.

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Vouchers divert much-needed funding away from public schools—where there is oversight and accountability—to private schools where there is none. Under this scenario, the very schools that need public support and public dollars the most are punished. In the guise of helping a few, they actually hurt many.

Moreover, at a time when we can’t afford National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) or school nurses, why isn’t there outrage for a proposal that amounts to funding a whole other school system?

Aren’t we in the business of increasing student achievement in an environment that is healthy and safe?

The answer is that Sen. Johnson’s proposal—and others like it—are not really about school reform. They’re about politics. Vouchers are anti-democratic.

Every student has the basic right to attend a great public school. It’s unconscionable that to make a political point, some use vouchers to declare “winners and losers” among Georgia’s children. It’s even more callous when study after study shows that public school students do as well—or even better—than comparable private school students.

Each time we move to “experiment” with vouchers, we “fail” to implement the things that have a proven track record of success: smaller classes; up-to-date textbooks and computers; qualified, caring teachers and education support professionals; active and involved parents and community leaders.

Georgia’s reality is that revenue is down, while need is up. When it comes to our public schools, taxpayers—and our students—simply can’t afford Sen. Johnson’s private school bailout plan.

Jeff HubbardPresidentGeorgia Association of Educators