Schmoke Makes a Choice


September 22, 1992|By JOSEPH B. MILLER

Mayor Schmoke has chosen choice in education, and he is to be heartily applauded for his decision.

Not just that he sent his 11-year-old daughter Katherine to a private academy (the Roland Park Country School, where she is in seventh grade), but that he exercised his option to choose a type and quality of education that he apparently felt the government schools could not provide.

''I have made a judgment based on what I think are my daughter's educational needs,'' he said in explanation of why he withdrew Katherine from public school.

Most parents of school-age kids don't send their kids to non-government schools, but almost two out of three would if they could, according to a 1990 Gallup poll.

They are denied this choice, however, because the government has chosen to fund only those students who attend the state-monopoly schools.

Those who choose to send their child to an alternative school must support two educational systems. They pay some $1,500 to $8,000 a year out of their own pockets, plus shelling out their share in taxes to prop up the failing government school system.

Mayor Schmoke's concern about his daughter's future, evidenced in his biting the bullet and enduring this government-enforced double education payment, should be acclaimed. But a great many middle-class and low-income people, including all those receiving welfare payments, don't have the money to choose an alternative to their local government schools.

These schools, more often than not, ill serve their youngsters. Test results over the past 20 years show that a growing proportion of graduates of state-run schools in America are unable to perform at even rudimentary levels in writing, vocabulary and math and have a poor knowledge of history, geography and politics. This threatens the future of competitive business in America and even of democracy itself.

And when tests by our best students are compared with performances by the best students from other nations, we invariably come out at or near the bottom.

This being the case in our state-run schools, it's time for the Maryland government to give the state's middle- and low-income families their children's allotment of education funds to spend on the school of their choice. Enough with giving it to the government schools themselves! It only feeds the bottomless maw of the bureaucratic education monopoly.

Actually, middle- and low-income parents would probably settle for even half of what the state spends on each student every year. State schools pour out $5,800 a year per child. Half of that, $2,900, in the form of education vouchers, would pay for all or most of the tuition at most of the private or parochial schools in the state. (And for every $2,900 voucher the government gave away, it would, in theory, gain a net saving of $2,900, with one less child to educate at state expense.)

If parents had the education money instead of the government schools, all schools in the state would necessarily compete for those education dollars. They would have to trim bureaucratic fat, deepen and diversify their course content, innovate and in general improve the quality of education to attract parent-consumers. This would help government schools as well as private ones.

The better-educated graduates emerging from these schools would bolster the state's businesses, would contribute to a conscientious and responsible citizenry, and the state would save a bundle of money -- perhaps billions of dollars a year. (More than 33 percent of all state and local spending is on public schools.) Annapolis and the counties could then celebrate with a tax cut. And a reduced tax burden would make the state more attractive to home buyers and new businesses.

In addition, low-income parents would experience a sense of empowerment through the use of their education vouchers, and their children would have access to a quality education in a disciplined environment -- the only sure ticket out of the inner city and to a life of prosperity. Thus the poverty base in Maryland, which is dangerously expanding -- spinning off alienation, apathy, family breakdown and crime as it does -- could be whittled away.

Under a voucher system, parents' rights would acquire new meaning. Parents would have the unfettered ability to choose the schooling that would give their children the values they would want for them -- instead of the government-approved values (or the lack thereof) taught in the state-run schools.

TEACH Maryland is a new coalition of parents and groups concerned to achieve a system where all parents have an equal ability to choose the education they think is appropriate for their children.

We welcome from Mayor Schmoke any support he can give for legislation in the coming General Assembly session to provide this freedom to all parents.

Joseph B. Miller is vice president of TEACH Maryland (Toward Educational Access through Choice).

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