Public schools in Hamilton County - indeed, in all of Tennessee - must improve if students are to compete in a world where a sound, broad-based education is the prerequisite for well-paying jobs that allow men and women to lead productive lives and to provide for their families. Such improvement has been slow to arrive. Supporters of taxpayer-funded private school vouchers believe they have a remedy for current problems. They are short-sighted - and wrong.
Voucher programs might sound good, but they are flawed. Proponents assume that public vouchers for private school tuition would allow worthy students to find places in private schools that have demonstrated an ability to provide a superior education. That contention is not grounded in fact.
The state has a finite amount of taxpayer funds to spend on education. If funds are appropriated for vouchers, the money will be drained from the amount designated for public schools, which already struggle to provide basics on a severely limited budget. Additional reductions - for vouchers or anything else - will lead to additional hardships for public schools and the students attending them. That's unfair to taxpayers and schools. Some even suggest that taxpayer support of private schools through vouchers is a form of taxation without representation. They've got a point.
Voucher supporters ignore the case made against them. They blindly contend that vouchers are a sure-fire way to provide kids with a better education. Such pie-in-the-sky reasoning is unsupported by fact-based research.
A voucher system would cherry-pick the brightest and most motivated students - and rob schools of their parents' support - leaving most other students and their families in public schools with a dearth of public-funded support.
Moreover, most highly respected private schools have full classrooms. They are unlikely to accept vouchers which probably would not cover the full cost of a private-school education. So either their parents would have to pony up the difference - creating an effective subsidy for private schools - or voucher-holding students would have to seek a place in lower-rated schools. That's no guarantee of the better education promised by voucher advocates.
The current political campaign in many instances pits mostly pro-voucher Republicans against mostly anti-voucher Democrats. A better option would be for current and would-be legislators and public officials to unite in common pursuit of goals that would improve the lot of all students rather than a few that might benefit from vouchers.
The mission of public schools remains crucial and viable - to instill knowledge and skills so students can think creatively, and compete for jobs that pay good wages and provide benefits that allow them to support families and to have an improved quality of life.
Vouchers won't provide that for all. Public schools that have improved resources, better parental and community support and programs to combat the crime and other urban tensions detrimental to learning have a chance to do so.