March Madness basketball brackets may’ve been busted last week, but folks around the country made clear one thing that isn’t busted: America’s public schools.
Americans United joined allies to celebrate Public Schools Week, promoting the benefits of diverse, inclusive public schools as the building blocks of vibrant communities. We took the opportunity to reaffirm AU’s commitment at our founding 71 years ago to defend a secular system of public schools.
We outlined how we continue to protect public education and religious freedom. AU opposes private school vouchers that divert desperately needed public funds to private, mostly religious schools. AU also fights efforts to make public schools more divisive places where teachers and staff can promote one religion over others, or religion over nonreligion.
AU’s new Executive Director Rachel Laser described some of her experiences with public schools, including ongoing work to promote diversity in the largest high school in Washington, D.C., and explained how these experiences influence her vision for Americans United. You can hear from Rachel and other AU staffers directly in this Facebook Live video.
But most compelling was the testimony from AU members and supporters who spoke up about what public schools mean to them and their families. Throughout the week people told us why they support public schools, and we wanted to highlight some of their thoughts:
Barbara Forrest of Louisiana:
“Public schools mean life to me and my family. … I have always told my sons that education is life, and none of us – in fact, no one even in our extended families – would have obtained an education without public schools. My husband and I were born into poor families, so public schools were our only hope for climbing out of poverty. We couldn’t afford private schools for our children, but we would not have sent our sons to private schools even if we could have.
“Thanks to public schools, my husband and I earned doctoral degrees and had long, productive careers. … (O)ne of our sons is an attorney and the other is a physician. Our boys learned in public school what America really is: a diverse country in which everyone should matter. And I am very proud that they plan to send their own children to public schools. … I have devoted my adult life to supporting public schools by defending the teaching of science across the country as both an activist and a scholar.”
Dana Price of Oregon:
“I was raise(d) in Great Falls, Mont., and attended public schools there. Public schools provided me with the fundamentally important education needed for life in the United States. It provided education in subjects such as English, mathematics, science, history, civics, shop classes... There were classes in art. … Science classes included physics, chemistry and biology. I was in the band and played a clarinet.
“The public schools I attended were not exclusive. That is to say, they did not exclude students on the basis of race, color, gender or social class standing. And certainly not on the basis of religion. Students from all religious backgrounds were accepted in the public schools I attended. Religion was not used as a dividing or excluding tool.
“The educational tools the public school provided every one of (my classmates) made it possible for each of us to pursue opportunities in life that could not otherwise be achieved.”
Shirley Reynolds of Wisconsin:
“Public schools changed my life. From first grade through college I have attended them – then spent 44 years working in them as a speech/language pathologist, where I helped change some lives too. I got so tired of hearing that the schools couldn't afford this or that, but now we can support private schools. Private schools should not be funded with public money. Here in Racine, Wisc., there is a group that is petitioning for local entities to indicate on property tax forms how much money goes to private and religious schools. We have a long history here of vouchers and charters and there has been very little oversight. We don’t know what we are paying for.”
Robert Paul Singer of Massachusetts:
“My family was rather poor. My father was a New York City cab driver... I was sent to public schools. (I) eventually graduated from Brooklyn College and received a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut on reduced tuition. All of this (including my GI Bill) was paid for from taxes! All my children and grandchildren went to public schools and are doing very well. My family's education (was) supported by wonderful caring teachers and by taxes. To undermine this by school vouchers and paying for religious schools would be slowly undermining an education system that has helped America be a great nation.”
These are just a few of the many public school enthusiasts we heard from over the past week – thank you for sharing your thoughts with us and for supporting public schools! And it’s not too late to submit a comment. We’d love to hear from you!