A few weeks ago, before the major disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak, communities across Ohio were closely watching the debate playing out in the state legislature over the expansion of EdChoice vouchers slated for the 2020-2021 school year.
For good reason. If implemented, the EdChoice voucher program expansion stands to funnel millions of local and state tax dollars away from public schools toward private and parochial schools, and will dramatically reduce the ability of public school districts to meet the needs of their communities.
Of course, before the debate was resolved, Gov. Mike DeWine ordered all schools to close indefinitely, in order to slow or delay the spread of the devastating virus. As a result, for the past few weeks, we have been living in a world devoid of such normal events as students waking up each morning and leaving their houses to go to school.
While the current public health crisis may have forced the public’s attention away from the pending voucher expansion, the coronavirus outbreak actually provides a stark reminder to legislators and community members of what can happen when public school services disappear.
Public schools serve all children and all families. Public school teachers provide teaching and learning for each student in their classroom. Public school cafeterias provide food and nutrition for all children who are hungry. Public school nurses provide health care for children who need it. Public school special educators provide individualized supports for children whose futures depend on them. Public school counselors, psychologists and social workers provide social, emotional and mental health services for students. Public school playgrounds, athletic spaces, sports teams, musical groups and extracurricular clubs provide opportunities for all children to explore their passions and interests, and bring the community together in school spirit. The list goes on.
Clearly, our public schools are more than just an education system. Public schools uphold the very fabric of American society. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to declare, as famed education reformer Horace Mann did, that education is the “great equalizer” and that public schools serve as “the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”
In a few weeks, Jews across the world will be celebrating Passover – this year, in appropriately socially distant ways. The Passover holiday reinforces the value of public education for all. In fact, the retelling of the Passover story begins with a parable of teachers teaching their students about the exodus from Egypt late into the night and early into the morning. This story holds a central place in the Passover tradition because it underscores the importance to society of engaging children in learning all day and all night. Public schools keep the promise of this ancient tale.
Similarly, during the Passover seder, families recount the tale of four children, each of whom approach learning from different perspectives and with different attitudes and questions. This allegory teaches us that education must be designed in order to appeal to and engage all different kinds of learners. This is exactly what public schools exist to do.
As the superintendent of the Shaker Heights City School District, and as an active member of the local Jewish community, I am well aware of the benefits that both public and private schools provide to communities, families and students. I believe families should have a choice in where to send their children. But, I do not believe that public monies should be used to fund these choices. Because of the irreplaceable and irreplicable services that public schools provide to all students, we have an obligation to ensure local and state tax dollars are used to support public school districts.
On April 1, the EdChoice voucher expansion is scheduled to go into effect. This legislation will mean more than 70% of school districts in Ohio will have at least one school eligible for students to receive vouchers. It will mean districts across the state will face financial uncertainty and crisis. For these reasons, I urge our legislators to pass common sense solutions to the voucher expansion before it is too late.
If nothing else, the coronavirus outbreak has made clear how much we take for granted, including our public schools. Ultimately, our schools will survive the virus. It would be a shame if we then turned around and destroyed them by our own hand.
David Glasner is superintendent of the Shaker Heights City School District.