It’s Public Schools Week, a time to renew our support for public education and vow to defend it. There are plenty of reasons to love our public schools. To kick off the week, let’s consider just five:
Public schools welcome everyone: No matter your religion, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation – you have a home in the public schools. It doesn’t matter if you have a disability. It doesn’t matter if English is not your first language. The public schools are there for you. They serve all of America’s children.
Public schools don’t force religion onto anyone: Public schools may teach about religion objectively as an academic subject, but they can’t compel children to pray, read the Bible or another religious text, or engage in other forms of religious worship. What a student believes or does not believe about religion isn’t relevant to their standing in our public schools. (And if a school does get off track and violates this principle, groups like Americans United can quickly set things right.)
Public schools seek community input: Our public schools are answerable to democratically elected boards composed of people in the community. While there are state and federal laws they must follow, public schools are meant to involve the local community, and they do. PTAs and PTOs exist to cultivate parental involvement. Taxpayers have a voice. There is a real system of accountability.
Public schools teach real science and history: Because public schools aren’t run by religious organizations, they strive to teach factual science, such as evolution, and accurate history, as opposed to creationism or the myth of the U.S. being a “Christian nation.” By sticking to the facts, the public schools prepare young people for college and the world beyond.
Public school teachers are awesome: In many parts of the country, teaching salaries are flat, and budgets aren’t what they should be. So public school teachers dig into their own pockets. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an astounding 94 percent of public school teachers have spent their own money on school supplies without seeking reimbursement. The average amount spent is nearly $500. (Also, take a moment to think about the people who’ve really made a difference in your life. How many of them were teachers?)
Are some public schools struggling? You bet. Do some need more resources? Absolutely. That’s why we need to make sure that our scarce tax dollars aren’t diverted through reckless voucher schemes to unaccountable private schools, most of which teach religious curriculum and some of which discriminate against students, families and staff. Public schools serve the vast majority of our children and fling open the doors of welcome to all. Public tax funding should be reserved exclusively for this system.
During Public Schools Week, join Americans United is recommitting yourself to that principle.
P.S. You can get started by telling your state legislators to reject voucher plans.
Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally ran on Feb. 25, 2020.