What if there were no public schools?

Crossposted from Democratic Convention Watch, because as Jews, we value education, and should be up in arms about this situation. 

Last week, we informed you about a Pennsylvania school district where the teachers and support staff were working for no pay, as the Corbett administration had cut their funds, and was refusing to release funding available to the district in June.

While school legislation varies by state, since 1918 ALL US states have had compulsory education requirements. That means the state, normally through local school boards but with a mix of Federal, state and local funding, provides education and that it is mandatory for children to attend from age 5-7 (depending on the state) through age 16-18 (again, depending on the state.) Yes, there are certain exemptions, but the bottom line is that people pay taxes which go to support the school district, and education is provided. 

Why?

Modern compulsory attendance laws were first enacted in Massachusetts in 1853 followed by New York in 1854. By 1918, all states had compulsory attendance laws. One reason for the acceptance by the states of these laws was the belief that the public school was the best means to improve the literacy rate of the poor and to help assimilate an immigrant population that grew at a high rate between the mid nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Another explanation is that as children were required to attend school for a number of years, factory owners found it more difficult to exploit the cheap and plentiful child labor. (Emphasis mine)

So what does it say about our values when a school district is allowed to implode? I cannot understand how this story is not getting huge national play…

More after the jump.

There is a lawsuit:

The school board and some parents in Delaware County's Chester Upland School District filed suit in federal court today against the state, the education department and legislative leaders, asking that the district be adequately funded through the end of the school year, at a cost of about $20.7 million.

The money should come from state allocations normally due the district which are now being diverted to pay charter schools, the lawsuit said, and from state education department reserve funds.

State officials have repeatedly said they will not send money to the district.

There was a brief vigil last night, but nothing really came of it, except plans for another meeting. The underlying debt problem here is that the state had control of the school district for a number of years, mismanaged everything, causing debt to run up and many children to flee to charter schools. Corbett is now saying that maybe the state will take over again (like that worked so well the last time, she said with dripping sarcasm), and that he is legally obligated to fund the charters prior to funding the public schools. That last point is one of the bones of contention in the current suit. Additionally:

The lawsuit also said that because payments to charter schools are based on Chester Upland's 2010-11 budget, which was $17 million more than this year, payments based on the 2010-2011 spending levels should be halted unless Chester Upland's state funding is restored to that year's levels.

That increased budget was due to the stimulus funding.  Remember that when it comes time to argue about the role of government.

Chester-Upland is nowhere near the only school district with money problems. More of these situations will keep happening. I keep thinking about the phrase I emphasized in the first quote: is it possible that reactionary state governments, in addition to endeavoring to deny suffrage, are also using school funding as a weapon against the poor and immigrants? Think about it: without basic literacy, what job can one get? You can't even navigate a car if you cannot make sense of the street signs. If you're rich, schooling is never an issue, there are always private schools available. But basic education is not just a right in this country, it's a legislated entitlement, even if you're too poor to afford private education. 

This election year is all about which is worse: big government or big business. That's the frame. Education is something that government is supposed to do. Worldwide:

Children are entitled to a free, quality basic education. Recognizing this entitlement, world leaders made the achievement of universal primary education by the year 2015 one of the Millennium Development Goals.

Think about the countries that don't provide education. Here are a few: Nepal, Chad, Sudan, Chad and the Congo. Plus lots more in sub-Sahara Africa and Southeast Asia. Do we really want to end up on that list?

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