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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Saving education in America

by George Dienhart

Bill Bennett wrote a recent op/ed piece detailing why Catholic Schools are important. You can read it here. It is a well thoughtful and relevant piece, written about the Wichita model of Catholic Education. The Wichita model moves the burden of tuition from the families attending the school, to all the parishes that feed the school. Essentially, any Catholic family that wants a Catholic education is given that opportunity under the Wichita model.

While this would cause people to give more to their parish, the pay offs to society at large are far greater. A study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute estimated that 300,000 students left Catholic Education to go back to Public schools in the 90’s. This was not due to dissatisfaction- quite the contrary as the Catholic Schools have about a 90% approval rate among attending families. This exodus occurred because of school closings. Many of these students were from inner city neighborhoods, forcing these children to move from safe venues of education, to inner city schools that teach nothing but hopelessness and fear. This was bad for society as a whole.

These Catholic School closings also put a strain on the public school that must absorb these students. Scant resources must be stretched even further. How can we fix this?

There are three possible solutions. One solution is school vouchers. Catholic Education is expensive, but still more economical than public schools. A voucher that takes ½ of the tax dollars meant to educate each student and allocates it to the school of the family’s choice would help everyone. For my own benefit, we will keep the numbers simple. Let’s say a school district has ten thousand students, each receiving eight thousand dollars. That is an 80 million dollar pot of cash. Now let us say two thousand students opt out. That leaves 74 million dollars for public education- liberals are screaming about an eight million dollar loss right about now. The magic lies in the math. The average amount of money available to spend for each public school child has risen from eight thousand dollars to nine thousand dollars. That is about an extra twenty five thousand dollars to spend on an average sized elementary school class. It could go for equipment, textbooks, or even teacher salaries. Vouchers would be as good for public schools as they would private schools.

Now the teacher’s union cronies can speak up- “That means fewer jobs for teachers!” No, however, it may mean fewer union jobs for teachers. This is a complaint born out of the self-interest of the unions. Competition means more private and parochial schools, which favor smaller class sizes. That means more jobs for teachers.

The second possible solution is the Wichita model, itself. In Wichita, the archdiocese made a decision. Catholic schooling would be free to all Catholics. The bishop asked all Church members to tithe from their salaries, this money then went into school operations. The program was a run away success. The Wichita Diocese figured out that parishioners are more likely to give to a program that will benefit their actual community. Wichita Catholics can now send their children to a Catholic School, free.

The third solution is a combination of the Wichita model and vouchers. This would help the Non- Catholics who wish to attend Catholic school do so. Catholic Schools have provided good educations for millions of students throughout the history of this nation, and this same institution now offers us a way to fix our schools in the United States- vouchers and competition. If you are Catholic, I recommend contacting you local Catholic school and asking them to look into the Wichita model. If enough schools pass this up through the ranks, your diocese will pay attention.

This may not seem to effect us much in Georgia, we haven’t lost a lot of Catholic Schools- we have, however, struggled to make our schools better. I live in what is supposed to be a good school district. This district has in the last year dealt with the following problems:

1. Not rolling out a math program quick enough to provide students math books. Last year 6th grade students at Booth Middle school did not have math books.
2. An alleged Pedophile teacher in one of the High Schools.
3. Young ladies allegedly planning a Columbine style attack on the fellow students at McIntosh High School.
4. Numerous security lockdowns.
5. Test score, that according to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, that are middle of the road for Georgia. This is compounded by high taxes paid by residents, and by the fact that Georgia schools rank 49th out of 50 states.

When I look around at a “good” school district in Georgia, I see school district that needs a little more competition from area private schools. Vouchers and the Wichita model for Catholic Schools could work wonders here.