Teachers must march to stop scholarship madness

Teachers should strike, or force school closings by calling in sick, only as a last resort.

House Bill 205, the private school scholarship bill, presents one of those moments.

Not only would its passage be detrimental to public education, but it represents open class warfare — the rich get to write off more taxes to boost private, gated schools, leaving the rest of us with less money for inclusive, public schools.

Think that’s hyperbolic?

HB 205 would allow Kentuckians to direct up to $1 million of their taxes for scholarships to send kids to private schools, including independent and religious schools. Their donations would be taken off the taxes they owe on a dollar-for-dollar basis. 

The Legislative Research Commission estimated that the bill could cost the state $50 million after four years.

So, to recap: Fewer kids would go to public schools, which would affect how much money the public schools get from the state. Meanwhile, wealthy Kentuckians send our taxes to exclusive schools — schools not accessible to the child of just any taxpaying parent.

The Bevin Administration’s budget director has a different take: He says the state would actually save money if fewer kids go to public schools, the Courier Journal reported.

Talk about rich.

Schools have fixed costs — costs that don’t change with the rise and fall of enrollment. So, if they lose funding because of reduced enrollment, the schools still need to find money to cover those costs.

Because of a new state pension mandate, everyone in the city is staring at the possibility of a tax increase, which Mayor Greg Fischer has been campaigning on in recent weeks. So, while Louisville is trying to help refill the tub, Republicans in Frankfort seem bent on opening a $50 million drain on the other end. 

Why are we being asked to pay more in taxes so millionaires can direct their tax dollars to private and religious schools?

HB 205 doesn’t just exacerbate the wealth gap, it’s bad for education, too.

I have a master’s degree in teaching from American University. I’ve taught in the classroom. Let me be clear: There is nothing that a private or charter school can provide students that a public school cannot also offer.

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There are no special books, miracle chalkboards or teaching strategies that are exclusive to private or charter schools.

One difference that universally has an impact on student performance — class size.

Smaller classes. More personal attention. It doesn’t take a private or charter school, religious classes or “In God we trust” displayed in the cafeteria to improve student or teacher performance.

As Courier Journal editorial cartoonist and occasional LEO contributor Marc Murphy said on Twitter: “There is a public school for you, the most important use of our state tax dollars. Your children have the right to attend a private school, for any reason. You pay. Not me. Not the other guy. We already paid for a school for your child.”

He’s right. Why should government help private schools?

If private, charter and religious schools want to offer more scholarships, they have my blessing. If kids and parents want to take extraordinary measure to change the school they attend, they have the freedom to do so. But it’s up to the private schools to worry about their own budgets and scholarship allocations. They are in charge of setting the cost of tuition, deciding how and how many scholarships are offered.

While we are on the subject of ridiculous proposals: If lawmakers really want to encourage kids to go to a private or religious school, why not allow them to take out student loans at an early age.

Why wait until college to take out loans?

What better real-world experience than to bury them under $40,000 of debt so they can get the best middle school education possible?

It makes more sense than asking everyone else to help pay that school… or church.

Lawmakers should be most focused on improving what is under their purview — public institutions.

But let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not about improving education — it’s about undermining public education, teachers and an entire class of people whom Republicans consider less-deserving. And, it is about spreading the Gospel in history class.

I can’t think of a more important time for teachers to do everything they can to stop a bill. 

We stand with teachers. •

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