When I spoke up for public schools in my last column, I had no idea that Dr. John Barge, current state superintendent of schools, was about to announce his candidacy for governor. So, I must say that although we will probably agree on a number of issues, I am not "politicking" for Barge.
I am, however, asking that we consider the purposes of public education, how they are being fulfilled, what can be done to improve the achievement of those purposes, and why there is a movement to privatize our educational system.
Our American forefathers realized that a democratic republic, such as they were creating would depend upon an educated voter base.
Although that voter base was somewhat limited in the early years of this governmental experiment, it represented a unique system of choosing leaders.
From individual families providing their own teachers, to pooling resources, to a community sharing expenses in a common location, a public supported school system evolved. If all men were really created equal, then they should be able to read, to listen critically, to think and choose leaders, and even to govern.
As the voter base expanded to include former slaves and eventually women, education for voters and potential public officials, became even more important.
Shouldn't it still be of great importance? Should those who can pay more receive a better education? Why should some schools have more resources than others?
Should education be a competitive sport or political football? Is it not a responsibility of government to provide a good basic education for all citizens?
Private schools, particularly ones supported by religious organizations, have always existed alongside public tax-supported institutions.
For different reasons, some families have chosen to pay the necessary fees for their children to attend these private schools. Do these students always learn more, become better prepared to assume their responsibilities as adults? Not necessarily, but no one denies their right to choose.
The more recent clamor for private schools is different. This movement proclaims that present public school systems are failures and that reform is desperately needed. How do we know? By comparing U.S. students on an international basis - although that comparison is often unbalanced, with data not taken from comparable situations.
In addition to differences in student populations, which I pointed out in my earlier column, there are also differences in funding. For instance, consensus declares the leading K-12 systems are Finland and South Korea. In both those nations, roughly half or more of funding comes from the central government, whereas in the U.S., federal funding equals about 10 percent. Both Finland and South Korea spend a larger percent of their GPD on education than does the U.S.
And in both those countries, teachers have more educational requirements but also enjoy higher pay and prestige.
Could the U.S. take a page from their book? If both national and state legislative bodies gave some real priority, instead of negative criticism, to public education, would there be positive response?
In my last column, I state that a lobbying organization called "Students First," based in California and extensively funded, is one of the major pushers for charter schools replacing regular public schools. Don't be misled by the name: it is not really a grassroots organization, but one that represents for-profit EMOs (educational management organizations), online courses, standardized tests and curriculum producers - in other words, many commercial special interest groups. As businesses with goals to produce profits, their support of students first provides money for donations to campaign funds. Is there a connection between Georgia legislatures' determination to control the approval of charter schools and contributions to specific politicians? Should we as citizen taxpayers be both aware and wary?
Dawson County Representative Kevin Tanner is chairing an informational meeting of a special task force from the Senate and House education committees, one of six statewide meetings. This one is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 8 at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega. Watch for an announcement of specific place, think of questions you would like to ask, and plan to attend.
If you can't do that, be alert to learn about your school systems, and share opinions with your state officials.
Helen Taylor's column appears periodically in the Dawson Community News.