Prop. 38: Referendum on the Future of Schools

This November, Californians will be able to vote for a change in the education policy of our great state. If passed, Proposition 38 will give all Californians the chance to send their children to high-quality private schools. For any child, parents can receive a $4,000 voucher every year to be spent on school tuition.

Currently, California spends over $8,000 per student on public education, so vouchers will actually save the state money rather than cause an increase in taxes. This public infusion of cash will increase parents’ available funds to spend on education and consequently increase the demand for a better education system.

It is the goal of the proposition that the increase in demand for education will not only encourage the opening of more private schools but also force the public education system to greatly raise its quality of teaching.

At issue here is not whether something needs to be done in California to overhaul the state’s abysmal education system. California ranks 49th in the nation in math proficiency, 50th in class size, 51st in teacher to student ratio (yes, that would be behind Puerto Rico, folks), and 51st in computers per student. These statistics are not too impressive for a state that, if were it to be a sovereign nation, would have the eighth-largest economy in the world. Obviously, something has to be done to change this.

State-run public education in this state is simply embarrassing. It has been left in the hands of the government for far too long, and it is time to take it back.

One word permeates when big government is referred to: bureaucracy. Anyone not familiar with this word need simply walk into any administration building on this campus and witness the complete and utter inefficiency and incompetence of the government at work.

Simply put, government institutions are inherently bureaucratic and public education is as bureaucratic as it gets. A decision of any significance made by a public institution must pass through so much red tape, paperwork and political bumblings that it is impossible for our public school system to be responsive and cutting-edge. How can we expect our children to keep pace with a society moving forward at an astounding rate if public schools are just now beginning to concede that children of all ages need to have access to computers?

The availability of school vouchers to every parent in California will empower the public and give parents the ability to choose who will educate their children. The parents can take this choice away from some bureaucrat in Sacramento who sees their child as a number, a cost and a future constituent.

Private schooling will no longer be a privilege set aside for the rich. Instead, the children who need help the most will get the boost they need to reach their goals.

In examining any public policy, one must look at who the proposition is meant to help. While Proposition 38 will indeed give all parents the ability to take advantage of $4,000 per year for private school, it is the economically underprivileged who truly stand to benefit from the introduction of vouchers.

Inner-city and other areas of poor economic standing have, by far, the worst public schools in the state. In Los Angeles, the closer children live to downtown, the worse their public schools get. Within a 10-mile radius of the center of Los Angeles, 22 elementary schools received an “”A”” school rating in the year 2000 based on their Academic Performance Index score, an aptitude test taken by all students and averaged for the school as a whole. Reduce it to a five-mile radius and you get only one school who received an “”A.”” If a person is brave enough to go within a two-mile radius of downtown, one “”D-“” tops a long list of “”F’s.””

Compare this data to that of Palo Alto where within a 10-mile radius of downtown, 40 schools have “”A”” ratings, and within two miles, 16 schools received “”A’s”” in 2000. There is an educational divide in this state and the line is clearly drawn along racial, ethnic and socio-economic boundaries.

For families living in the inner city, parents have no choice but to send their children to schools like Lincoln Elementary in the Compton Unified School District, where only 13 percent of teachers have full teaching credentials. Our society cannot be content with this being parents’ only choice for their children’s education.

It is, however, futile to argue that inner-city schools are not in need of some serious change, so let us focus on what can be done now to help kids growing up in such deplorable schools. We do not need a government program to increase funding slowly over the next five years. We need a fix now. Children who will be starting kindergarten next fall need to have the choice to attend a school with qualified teachers, sufficient supplies and an environment in which they can flourish and avoid following the same path as this year’s kindergarten class at Lincoln.

As income distribution in the United States, and especially in California, becomes increasingly skewed, we cannot continue to let education do the same. The one true way to start to chip away at the economic gap in this state is to start at the bottom. Better educated 5 year-olds means better educated 12-year-olds who will become better educated 18-year-olds getting into better colleges and making a life for their children better than it was for themselves. School vouchers and the empowerment of parents will accomplish this goal.

The issue at hand here is choice. Pure and simple, parents deserve a choice when sending their kids to school. If they do not want to send their child to the local public school for whatever reason, they should not have to. Parents have a choice in virtually everything concerning their children; why not education? The government has had its chance to educate children and it has failed.

In a few years, when we have children of our own, we will have the luxury of choice as a result of an education system designed to benefit us. What about those whom the system is designed to ignore? Will the government still choose for them? Now is our chance to ensure that all children will have the chance to grow up with the opportunities and choices they deserve.

School vouchers take power from the few and give it back to those from which that power is derived: the people.