It is not a beautiful day in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood.
Sen. Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) saw his beloved school voucher bill bite the dust this session. Groused Mr. Rogers, "We want to ignore the fact that our schools are failing. I'm going to have a hard time defending this one." Not really.
Mr. Rogers, maybe public schools are failing because you and your colleagues have done a poor job of helping them succeed. Duh!
Rogers in his frustration at seeing the voucher bill shelved said the General Assembly spends more money on education than most any other issue and our state is almost dead last in results. Let me put on the corporate hat that I wore for 40 years, senator. If we had a department that was getting most of our corporate resources and we were not getting desired results, we would have fired whoever was in charge. In this case, that would be the Legislature.
Fortunately for Rogers and his fellow legislators, voters are more apathetic than parents - in some cases I suspect they are one in the same - so legislators don't have to worry about being held responsible for the poor results from the expenditures of our tax dollars on public education.
Perhaps Mr. Rogers will tell us how vouchers fit the future of Georgia's public schools? Is his vision the same as Gov. Nathan Deal? State School Superintendent John Barge? The State Board of Education? The U.S. Department of Education? The Professional Association of Georgia Educators? The Georgia School Superintendents Association? Have you guys talked? Or are we dealing with a hodgepodge of legislative schemes with little or no coordination? If so, why?
Now, let's get to the matter of vouchers - Chip Rogers and I have had this conversation before. He says vouchers are about "freedom" and "choice." In his view, we should have the freedom and choice as to where we send our children to school. I couldn't agree more.
Where we disagree is that I firmly believe that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for parents who wish to send their kids to private schools. Currently, the state has in place a program which allows a tax credit up to $2,500 for scholarships for public school children wanting to attend private schools. The cost? An estimated $50 million. Wouldn't that money have covered much of the pre-K shortfall?
If parents want to send their children to private schools, let them. Also, let them pay for that decision. If they can't afford it, then let the private schools dole out scholarships based on need.
Some of those who support vouchers, including my friend Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Cobb), say parents will want their children to stay in public schools that are providing a quality education. If so, then make sure all the schools are doing that. Do I have to think of everything?
Another argument by the pro-voucher crowd is that a local school system's funding would likely rise if the voucher system was implemented because school systems would lose only the state funding portion. Local funding would remain within the system. How does that improve public education? Will it give schools more money for police officers or drug-sniffing dogs? Will it make apathetic parents suddenly more involved in their child's education? Will it permit public schools the ability to discipline students that private schools are afforded and will bureaucrats quit changing the rules every few years and allow a consistent curriculum?
So where do we go from here? I wish Gov. Deal would use his considerable legislative skills and assemble all the players that have a stake in public education (if there is a room big enough to hold them all) and keep them locked up until they agree on a shared vision for public education and establish a road map to get us there; a road map that will transcend future administrations and legislators.
If that can't be done, then let's agree to do away with public education altogether. Maybe the concept has outlived its usefulness. Let's make home schooling, virtual schooling, charter schools and private schools the choices. But let's make it a stated policy and quit trying to cannibalize public schools bit by bit.
Until somebody in state government shares with me a clear vision of the future of public education in Georgia, I will exercise my freedom and choice and continue to be unalterably opposed to school vouchers. Sorry about that, Mr. Rogers.
Reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.