This week is Public Schools Week, a perfect time to think about all the benefits of public education and why it is so important that we protect it. Public education serves many vital purposes in our country: It improves communities, reduces inequalities, forges common experiences and strengthens our democracy.
To celebrate Public Schools Week, let’s highlight a few of the many great aspects of public education.
First: Public schools build stronger communities. Educating all children benefits us all. Our communities prosper when all children grow up to be competent adults, get along with their neighbors, hold good jobs and contribute to our society and shared economy.
Second: Americans trust local public schools. Despite claims by voucher proponents that parents want to leave the public school system, a 2022 poll shows that Americans gave their local public schools the highest ratings in 50 years, with 54% rating their local public schools an “A” or a “B.”
Third: Public schools are open to and must serve all students. Public schools serve all students, regardless of economic status, disability, religion, race, ethnicity, English fluency, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, family status or any other personal characteristic.
Fourth: Public schools are accountable to taxpayers. Public schools are subjected to federal, state and local oversight and accountability requirements. This means that public schools must administer tests to track student achievement, document how funds are spent, ensure they are teaching a curriculum that meets state standards, meet state teacher licensure standards and report reams of data to the state and federal government about how students are performing and being treated.
Fifth: Public schools serve a diverse range of ethnic and religious communities in our society. Public education brings our communities together by forging common experiences among a wide range of students: 90% of American students attend public schools. While it is true that our public schools, like the communities we live in, are not entirely desegregated, our public education system is one of the institutions where we are most likely to encounter, interact with and get to know people of different races, religions, political views and socioeconomic backgrounds. In today’s polarized environment, public schools play a more important role than ever in promoting unity.
These are just a few of why all of us – including those without school-aged children and those without any children – pay into the system. We cannot abdicate our responsibility for educating our nation’s children to private entities that are often primarily concerned with how to make a profit and don’t have the same obligation to the common good.
Although we know public schools are vital to our democracy, they are under attack. Private school voucher advocates are determined to divert desperately needed public resources away from our public schools to fund private, mostly religious schools. Let’s be clear, private school vouchers don’t improve student achievement, lack basic accountability and oversight standards, fund discrimination, can exacerbate racial segregation and harm religious freedom.
Already in 2023, we have seen state lawmakers push private school vouchers instead of supporting public schools. Americans United is committed to fighting these attacks And we, along with our allies at National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) will be armed with the facts about the myriad of problems with vouchers. You can join us in this fight too: act now to remind your state lawmakers that they should not drain money away from public schools through private school vouchers.