News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 22, 2011

MS. TAKES: Aren’t public schools in need of our attention?

Liz Ciancone
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — There have always been private schools.

Parents who wanted a religious dimension to a child’s education paid taxes for public schools and then tuition for the special emphasis they wanted. The well-to-do opted for “finishing schools” or “prep schools” or “boarding schools,” all of which involved tuition over and above taxes paid to support public schools.

Public schools, by definition, are for the benefit of the public. All children, regardless of parental income, are given the same chance for an education. It is for the benefit of society that some sort of equal opportunity be offered. With an extra dollop of ambition and infinite interest in learning, even the poorest may achieve success.

The difference between the private schools I knew in my youth and the charter schools of today seems to be that government wants to use public money to subsidize private education. They tell us that education should be a matter of choice. Private education has always been a matter of choice and regardless of what name you choose to call them, charter schools are simply another form of private education.

It has been a tradition of democratic societies to support public education for the good of society. Those who have no children of school age — even those who have never had children at all — have pitched in to see that the next generation is educated to the point that they can be gainfully employed and become contributing members in their cities, their states and their country. In a broader sense, they become contributors to the welfare of people the world over.

In the dark ages when I was passing through a teachers college, we were taught that optimum educational advantage for children in our classrooms depended upon a class size of no more than 20 kids — 18 was better, but 20 was acceptable. It is often twice that today.

If class size is the lure of charter schools, why not give the proposed tuition kickback to the public schools so they can reduce class size? If the attraction is providing enrichment classes in music and art and drama, why are we cutting these classes from public schools to reduce costs?

If we know what makes charter schools “better” than public schools, why not mandate those attractions and fund them? Heaven knows government at all levels has raised education mandates to an art form.

And if we are going to subsidize education through charter schools, doesn’t it make sense to use that subsidy in the schools we already have?

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send e-mail to opinion@tribstar.com.