Letter: Public schools are essential

I oppose vouchers because I am a patriot. President John Adams said, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it — not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

We began at a time when only very privileged young white men were educated. We thrived because we grew to understand that the destiny of all of us is tied irretrievably to the destiny of each of us. With such understanding came the goal of political and economic participation for all and public education to make that participation meaningful.

Free public education is a cornerstone of our democracy and the responsibility of every state.

I oppose vouchers because I hold constitutional freedoms dear. The mission of religious schools is to provide an excellent Catholic or Baptist or Jewish or Christian or Islamic education. Given the opportunity to provide a nonreligious education to children, those in charge of these schools would not likely do so. Government educating children in religion is a violation of our Constitution and a threat to the religious freedom of all.

Many private schools provide a fine education; many do not. Few are organized to meet the needs of every child. The lack of universality makes comparisons of national test scores specious at best.

I oppose vouchers because we should not give up our public responsibility. Supporting a few children’s private educations with public money permits those who see doing so as the answer to the problems found in public education to turn away, satisfied that they have addressed the problems. Children whose needs are not met will be left to languish because public schools will increasingly be underfunded and under political radar. We leave children to languish at our peril.

Public money should be spent on the work of providing every child a free and high-quality public education. Any diversion of money to private education is a step away from our historical triumph and lasting obligation.

We know that public school systems can provide an excellent education for every child regardless of family background, economic status, special needs or educational ambitions. We know because there are examples all around us that when citizens care, commit themselves and their tax money, and pay constant attention, schools work. Caring, committing and paying attention is what Louisiana should be doing for the education of its children, not giving the responsibility away to those who operate schools without being responsible to attend to the needs of every child and who are not required to respond to the citizens who support their mission.

Diane Burkhart

retired legislative lawyer

Zachary