A story from the Wilmington, Del., News Journal caught my eye this morning: Some private school parents in the state are angry because legislators are considering axing a small subsidy they get to offset the cost of transporting their children to private schools.
The sums involved are not large, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld this type of private school bus aid way back in 1947. It’s not so much a constitutional issue these days.
But one thing struck me as I read the story: Several of the private school parents complain that they pay taxes for public education and don’t “get anything” for it.
Parent Michael Charney, whose two children attend a Catholic school, remarked, “I pay my taxes every year and do not get anything from the state other than receiving this check, and now they’re thinking about taking even that away?”
Charney’s attitude is unfortunate – and it’s all too common these days. He asserts that he doesn’t get anything from those public school taxes. Mr. Charney, you could not be more wrong.
Let me tell you what you get: You get an educated public. You get kids who learn things and go on to contribute to society. You get literacy and numeracy. You get an appreciation for science. You get a school system, subject to local control and in most parts of the country governed by a democratically elected board, which educates 90 percent of our young people.
Do you want to be mercenary about it? OK – you get a generation of workers who will someday pay your Social Security. You get children off the street and in the schools. You get less crime.
You get a system that, when it works as it should because people support it, exposes children to Shakespeare, civics and science all in one day. You get professional educators who have been trained to teach young people things you probably can’t teach them.
You get a system that by law can’t turn any kid away. Young people with special needs are educated there. Minority students are educated there. Kids who don’t speak English as a first language are educated there. The poor, the rich and the middle class are educated there. Kids with IQs in the stratosphere are educated alongside those who need a little more help.
You also get a program of secular education and a system that no longer purports to wade into theological controversies. Your children will learn about religion as an academic subject but won’t be indoctrinated.
Finally, you get the assurance that the public schools will always be there for you. Who knows, Mr. Charney, someday maybe even one of your children will end up there. Remember, your private school can expel students at any time for any reason. The public school system cannot. Your children will always have a place there.
The taxes we pay for public schools aren’t just about what you get personally. Otherwise, childless people and those whose kids are grown would not have to pay them. We all pay those taxes because public education is part of the common good. That’s why it’s called “public.”
Not everyone wants to use the public school system, and that’s fine. But these people are in no way entitled to a rebate for the taxes they pay for public education because they benefit from the system whether they’re using it or not. Their argument is akin to a man demanding a rebate for the portion of his taxes that go to the public library because he has enough books at home.
Education writer Diane Ravitch has written eloquently about the role public education plays in American society. She speaks about the common good – a phrase that some people seem to be afraid to use in this country of swaggering bootstrappers. Yet for many of us, the idea of the common good is best exemplified by the public school system.
So keep paying your taxes, Mr. Charney. And please don’t complain or expect any rebates. I’d say you’re getting quite the bang for your buck.