I deeply regret the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the use of public tax dollars to pay the tuition at private and religious K-8 schools within the City of Cleveland. Voucher programs are an example of poor education policy, and irresponsible economic policy.
“Rescuing” Cleveland’s poorest children from Cleveland’s “failing schools,” the theme song sung by voucher proponents, is a blatant sham. The statistics gathered during the years of voucher program operation reveal that the majority (80 percent) of the voucher recipients were never enrolled in Cleveland schools to begin with.
The stats also show that a large percentage of voucher recipients had family incomes of $34,000 a year or more – hardly Cleveland’s poorest.
And what about those students who actually did leave the “failing” Cleveland Municipal Schools to attend voucher schools? These students, by and large, left the highest performing Cleveland schools, which were and are delivering a top-notch education in a culturally diverse and racially integrated environment, posting very competitive performance scores. The parents of these children were not actually choosing a better education – Cleveland’s religious schools do not show better test scores – they chose a religious one, and now the U.S. Supreme Court wants all Ohio taxpayers to pay for it.
All Ohioans are victimized by the State Legislature’s actions of putting public education tax dollars into the private coffers to support economically failing church schools. For more than ten years, the Ohio Legislature has ignored its constitutional duty to fix the funding system and ensure adequate and equitable funding to the public school system in Ohio.
Poorer school districts, mainly in urban and rural areas, are starved for adequate funding, while middle-class school districts are on a continuous cycle of levy campaigns and budget cuts that pit neighbor against neighbor and community against community. All Ohio communities are convulsing under the strain of trying to educate their children within a system that Ohio courts have declared unconstitutional.
Instead of addressing the long-standing need for equitable education funding for all Ohio’s children, the majority Republican state legislature has spent large amounts of political and financial capital to defend vouchers. The voucher program weakens and divides civic support for public education, and public accountability of our tax dollars. Vouchers are not a solution to this systemic problem.
Now more than ever, we need our elected leaders to lead by ensuring more public accountability in the use of our tax dollars – they should be blocking schemes to put public tax dollars into private hands. All Ohioans have a civic duty to protect and defend the basic democratic principle of a quality, public education for all.
I am raising my family in the City of Cleveland, and I am proud to be here in this great working-class city. I believe that one big reason my father’s generation is called the “greatest generation,” is because he and his sisters received a quality public education, funded by American tax dollars, and supported by the ideal that developing the minds of its people was important to American democracy.
That ideal, treasured by my Italian grandfather, is the one I hold on to. It is the ideal I want my children and all children – of all races and nationalities, immigrant and citizen – to rely on.
I believe that public tax dollars for public education is the rock on which we continue to build the American dream. The Supreme Court decision opens the door to the destruction of that dream.
Ann Pallotta is a parent of a Cleveland public school student and a spokesperson against vouchers. Pallotta is a leader of Cleveland’s League of Women Voters.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org