Public money for schools is lining private pockets
Who pays for our roads? We do, from a combination of different taxes. Roads are part of the infrastructure we require as a society. I know that I will not get a chance to drive on all of the roads that my taxes support, but I assume that other people do and that they are there for the common good. What if these taxes were used to pave golf lanes on a private country club, or a church or synagogue parking lot? Is that the same? Is that what public money is meant to be used for?
Somehow, in the twisted thinking of our state legislature, tax money collected for our school district is diverted to several private enterprises over which our district has no control, and financially supports students the district does not serve.
Students with special needs who are not going to attend our schools get up to $27,000 per year to attend a private or parochial school. These students can be served, for the most part, in our district for less, but the law allows them to take money to another provider—one that may know nothing about serving special needs students.
The district is also required to fund salaries for staff who create Individualized Education Plans for special needs students who will never attend our schools. This is also an enormous drain on resources that we need for the students that we are actually trying to teach.
Money is lost to our district when parents choose to send their students to a charter school. It is taken out of the pot. These supposedly public schools have been in the news for a long while. Originally planned to be innovative centers where teachers would be able to reach students in a different way, many charter schools are worse than the public schools the students would normally be attending. Additionally, these charter schools are profit centers for their CEOs, and many have stability problems, partially because most of their teaching staffs are paid poverty wages and are usually not union protected.
More than a third of the students from our district who “attend” a charter school are doing so online. I believe it takes an exceptionally well-motivated student to learn online. Students who are young and are learning in this manner are also missing out on the non-curricular skills that children need to get along--things one learns on a playground. Our teaching staff tells me that students returning from charter schools (some at mid-year, after the monies have been diverted) are often way behind students who stay in our school system.
Our district also loses money to EdChoice vouchers. This year alone, we lose $2.8 million to private and parochial schools for students who live within some of our school boundaries. The basis for this is the flawed state testing system. Even though our students show tremendous growth every year, if they do not meet some arbitrary score from the state, we lose more resources. The theory is that families should not have to send their students to the neighborhood school if these magical scores are not met. Many of the families draining these resources from us, depleting our reserves, would not use our school system anyway, for religious or curricular reasons. In fact, there are cases of outsiders buying houses in the district solely to take advantage of this free tuition money. Believing that EdChoice vouchers leaves more resources for students in the district is nonsense.
This school year alone, our district is in the hole by more than $6 million because of these state mandates. This figure does not even take into account [the cost of] staff needed to oversee some of these funds and other tasks that would not have to be done if the laws were different. I have not mentioned any of the other long-term private school services our district is required to provide, including transportation, book purchases, and so forth—some of which I could argue make sense. These vouchers and subsidies of special needs services make no sense.
Parents choose a private, parochial or charter school based on many factors. It is their choice, and one that they obviously put a lot of thought into and have a right to make. The use of public dollars to fund this choice, and starve the students who attend our public schools, is inappropriate and should be illegal—just as it would be wrong to pave anything at a private golf course at taxpayer expense.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.