When I returned from communing with nature at Scout camp, I looked at the pile of newspapers that had accumulated in my absence. I began reading with eager expectation, daring to hope that spirited political debate, of which I admit to being a junkie and from which I had been withdrawn cold-turkey for a week, had been brisk in my absence.
And just two days in, my anticipation was rewarded. The Republican Committee had made its school board endorsements, and, as seems to be their status quo for now, it was controversial.
Republicans are widely regarded as proponents of vouchers, tax credits and school choice. I will say up front that I am an opponent of private school vouchers and tax credits. I am still undecided on charter schools, preferring to judge them on individual merits, but wholeheartedly agree with school choice.
I am the product of school choice, my parents electing to send me to Catholic schools for seven of my eight elementary years. I believe that if parents want to send their children to private schools, terrific, but I should not have to subsidize their choice, just as I wouldn’t expect them to subsidize mine.
With these biases in mind, I feverishly read the newspaper article, hoping to learn some details on the positions of the different candidates and which candidates had been endorsed. Unfortunately, the news article that I read provided me with only half the story. And when my Wednesday colleague wrote in his column this week that questions and answers were available on the Republican Committee Web site, I immediately rushed online only to find that if the information had indeed been there, it was no longer available.
Learning the positions of the various school board candidates on these issues is crucial to the direction that our school system will take. Vouchers and tax credits are two aspects of the larger issue of school choice (which apparently is as far as one of the candidates got in memorizing the party mantra).
It’s quite easy for candidates to say they support school choice and vouchers, but they need to explain what exactly it is they support and why, since in Prince William County, we have school choice and a form of vouchers already in place.
Let me explain what I mean. When discussing vouchers, it’s important to know there are two main types. One type has the school board provide the parent with a piece of paper that they then present to an approved school. The school then forwards the paper to the school board and the school board reimburses the school for the value of the voucher.
If this type of voucher sounds familiar, it is. This is the type of voucher that is utilized in the federal Food Stamp program. The government issues paper to the recipient, who purchases approved groceries from the store, presents the Food Stamps, and then the store presents the Food Stamps to the government for reimbursement. Unfortunately, as we are all aware, the Food Stamp program is rife with fraud, and while the possibilities lessen with school vouchers, they are still present.
This explains the popularity of another, more common, type of voucher known as the “funds follow the child” voucher. With this type of voucher, the child attends the approved school and the government provides the money directly to the school. This is the type of voucher program we have in Prince William County. It’s known as our Magnet School program.
The Magnet School program in our county provides our families with school choice. Although more visible in the high schools, many middle schools and a few elementary schools have magnet programs. Parents may choose to send their children to Belmont Elementary, for example, to take advantage of the math and science program instead of attending their home school at Kerrydale, for example. The school board then pays Belmont the cost of educating that student instead of Kerrydale; thus, the money follows the child and voila – school choice and vouchers.
There is nothing more important to our present, our future and our children’s future than the education of our children. It is critically important that the people we elect to the school board (as well as those we elect to the General Assembly) understand the intricacies of the job they will be doing.
I hope all the candidates will offer us more insight to their vision for our schools so we can make an educated choice in November.
When she’s not guiding Scouts through the wilderness, Denise Oppenhagen lives in Lake Ridge.