Now is not the time to skimp on crucial public education spending

 

Each day brings new education headlines: "Class sizes skyrocket;" "Teacher positions eliminated;" "Schools cut arts education;" "Middle school athletics cut;" "Board considers fewer days;" "Threshold to qualify for support services rises." One after the other is a new idea about how to help our schools.

Unfortunately, these proposals are being made on the basis of the bottom line and not their educational value. They are short-term and shortsighted approaches to a long-term challenge.

I UNDERSTAND THAT these are difficult economic times, but you don't see proposals to take police off the streets, close the fire department one day per week, stop running ambulances after 8 p.m., or to stop offering water to citizens. We call these "essential services." What is more essential than the proper education of our children? What is more important to economic recovery than an educated, enlightened and responsible work force?

Some people would assume that, as a private-school headmaster, I'm happy to watch our public schools decline, but nothing could be further from the truth. I am as big an advocate of quality public schools as you will find.

Consider that the 25 percent of India's population with the highest IQs is larger than the total U.S. population. China could soon have the largest English-speaking population in the world, including the United States. Today educators have to prepare students for a global economy and jobs that don't yet exist.

For every imaginable reason, I believe now is the time for us to invest in education, not reduce our investment. Think we can't afford to pay for education? I think we can't afford not to.

From an economic standpoint, it is vital to our country's economy that we raise a generation of creative entrepreneurs, capable managers and adaptable workers. From a civic standpoint, a democracy can only survive -- let alone thrive -- if it has an educated citizenry that can think critically and independently. But most importantly, from a moral standpoint we cannot shortchange our children's future for the sake of balancing this year's budget.

BECAUSE GOOD independent schools such as mine keep class sizes small; maintain a commitment to enrichment education like the arts, PE, and foreign language; and increase services and support each year, we tend to benefit from cuts and chaos in public education. Parents rightly flee oversized classes; disruptive students who aren't receiving sufficient services; and program cuts in areas parents see as important. After all, it's a parent's responsibility to see to their own child's current needs.

But it's the responsibility of our elected officials to see to the needs of all children present and future. It would be narrow-minded and shortsighted of me to support the recently proposed cuts to education in our public schools, which themselves are shortsighted. Such cuts in education slash more than just budgets; they also slash our communities and our futures.

I have chosen to work in private schools for many personal reasons, not least of which is my desire to be in a setting where God is welcome in His many, mysterious ways. But as a person and a citizen, I believe strongly in the importance of public education and our country's need to invest in it.

IT IS GOOD AND healthy and democratic that parents have choices -- especially now that tax-funded programs such as Senate Bill 10 and the GOAL Scholarship help make those choices affordable for all families, not just the wealthy. And although I'm glad that more and more parents will consider their options in today's school climate, I also worry deeply about those who don't or won't.

Parents have to do what's best for their own children; it's our elected officials who need to do what's best for the system. Our public schools need serious help. We move in the wrong direction and send our children the wrong message when we shortchange their education and mortgage their futures. Please, when it comes to education, don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish. It won't pay in the long run.

(The writer is headmaster of Episcopal Day School in Augusta.)

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