Question of the Month After PSINet Inc.'s bankruptcy...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

March 09, 2002

Question of the Month

After PSINet Inc.'s bankruptcy, the Ravens intend to resell the name of the city's football stadium. Should the team have control of the stadium's name? And what would you call the stadium?

We are looking for 300 words or less; the deadline is March 21. Letters become the property of The Sun, which reserves the right to edit them. By submitting a letter, the author grants The Sun an irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to use and republish the letter, in whole or in part, in all media and to authorize others to reprint it.

Letters should include your name and address, along with a day and evening telephone number. E-mail us: letters@baltsun.com; write us: Letters to the Editor, The Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278-0001; fax us: 410-332-6977.

Razing barriers to school choice

As a supporter of school choice, permit me to commend The Sun for its balanced and thought-provoking editorial "School choice takes center stage" (Feb. 22). But while some of the practical obstacles to vouchers the editorial cites are real enough, they are not, in my opinion, insurmountable.

For example, the editorial notes that vouchers "won't necessarily pay the freight at private institutions where tuitions are frequently three or four times the per-pupil spending of a public school."

The last time I looked, the per-pupil cost in Baltimore was around $7,500 per year. And private schools, especially private religious schools, are a lot more affordable than is widely believed.

According to a 1996 Cato Institute study, 67 percent of all private elementary and secondary schools charged tuition of $2,500 or less while the average private school tuition nationwide was $3,116.

The other potential obstacles The Sun cites, such as transportation and money for books and extracurriculars, are within the purview of the General Assembly to surmount, as it has to a limited degree. And these things haven't been a major problem for the thousands of children in the Cleveland and Milwaukee voucher programs or for the hundreds of students enrolled in the privately funded Children's Scholarship Program right here in Baltimore.

The Sun's article also expresses concern that the best students would take vouchers and leave the worst behind in the public schools. That fear has long been promoted by opponents of school choice, but it runs contrary to simple logic.

If a student is doing well in the public school, why should that child subject himself or herself to the trauma of changing schools? The ones most likely to do so would be those who are failing and looking for a new start.

The Sun is also correct to be concerned about avoiding the appearance or reality of a government imprimatur for any particular brand of religious education.

Voucher proponents couldn't agree more. Whatever imprimaturs are granted must be bestowed solely by parents' free choice.

But concerns about a negative financial impact of choice on public schools may be misplaced. Under a properly structured voucher program, where the value of the voucher is one-half of per-pupil spending in the public schools, every child who transfers to the private sector increases the dollars-per-pupil available to the public sector.

In Milwaukee, for instance, both per-pupil funding and overall funding for public schools increased during the school choice period of 1991 to 2001.

John D. Schiavone, Kingsville

Nursing needs aid

Maryland and the nation face a severe shortage of nurses.

Locally, 15 percent of these care-provider jobs (1,600 full-time slots) are vacant. And, as The Sun has reported ("J&J launches nurse ad campaign," Feb. 6 ), nationwide there are so many vacancies (126,000) that a major pharmaceutical company is spending $20 million to attract more people to the profession.

This shortage puts an enormous strain on the nurses who have remained in the field. It has a direct impact on patient care and has driven up hospital costs. Recruiting more nurses to work in health care facilities is imperative.

In December, Sen. Barbara Mikulski won Senate passage of the Nurse Reinvestment Act, which offers key incentives for men and women to join the nursing profession through a variety of scholarships, public school outreach, mentoring and a national Nurse Service Corps program.

Equally important, the bill calls for grants to improve workplace conditions and create nurse retention programs.

The House has passed a more limited bill, which now must be reconciled with the Senate version.

Ms. Mikulski deserves our thanks for fashioning an effective, bipartisan solution. But given the depth of the shortage, financial support for nursing is crucial.

The challenge before the House and Senate now is to fund these programs at a meaningful level.

Karen B. Haller, Baltimore

The writer is vice president for nursing and patient care services at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Illegitimacy crisis sinks Baltimore

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