One of the biggest things that separate most Southern liberals and Democrats from the opposition is our unwavering commitment to public education. While anti-government forces believe we’d be better off without public schools altogether, we on this side of the aisle always talk about how committed we are to excellence in public education. One of our core values is that education is a shared expense, and that public education is one of the most cost-effective places to allocate our shared resources.
But we’re supposed to be good stewards of those public resources we allocate. We have to get them from the appropriate places and make sure that those dollars are effective when spent, and give taxpayers and property owners an appropriate return on their considerable investment. Otherwise, the already endangered support for public education will erode from the folks who put up the lion’s share of the money.
The movement towards private schools and vouchers and white – flight and home-schooling may have their roots firmly planted in the anti-integration soil of the past 40 years. But as of today that movement has gained most of its ground not from the inherent racism of its birth - as many liberal pundits insinuate - but at the fact that our public schools, especially across the South, are failing to return the proper investment to taxpayers, property owners and parents whose children should be attending those schools. In the case of the anti-public schools movement, what began as an ideological response has morphed into a competency-based response. Ignoring this fact will continue the downward spiral and will lead to the eventual dismantling of the American Public Education system, one of the core institutions of American public society, and what could have and should have been one of the crowning achievements of American liberalism.
As I say often, competency will trump ideology, even if all you hear about is the ideology. People will vote with their feet. One day, we wake up, and the whole public education system is de-funded because another, more competent but more exclusive system will have been built while we argued about who is to blame.
Maybe that is just a natural evolution of public institutions, but I think it would be a step backwards. If it ends up being a better education system, however, so be it. But it deserves our best fight - our best efforts - in defending our vision of American public education so that the choice is not poorly made. The final directional choice should be between two of the best educational models as opposed to grasping at whatever is better, safer, or more effective than our crumbling public institutions.
The future of the Democratic Party, Southern Liberalism, and the American way of life will factor heavily on how education is dealt with in the coming years, as an event horizon is approaching. The choice between public education v. private education will come to a head sooner than many of us on this side of the aisle are willing to think, and the results of that choice will have effects long into the future.
That choice will be made in New Orleans.
Seventeen months post-deluge, the public schools run by the locals and the state are still unable to accept all students and provide basic services for them at the schools. While some problems were to be expected in recovering from the scale of the disasters faced by this area, this is an American city, part of an American state and a piece of this Union. Last time I checked, the United States of America was the greatest, richest, most powerful and most can-do nation ever to exist on the face of this Earth, and the roughly 50% of us who consider ourselves left of center have a core value that says ‘we are all in this together’ and ‘what happens to the least of us happens to the best of us.’
Right now, in addition to those students who already went to parochial school, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has 1,500 public school kids in the system who had no space in the public schools, and made a declaration recently that they are willing to add another 300 students to that number because the need has arisen. Yes, bless whoever made that decision, because when the need arises, there is no greater thing to see than someone or some group stepping up to the plate and saying ‘we got this.’
And, as a Southern liberal and a Democrat, I have no problem with the state legislature sending some cash the Archdiocese’s way to cover some of the expenses. Separation of Church and State be damned, there are several hundred kids who won’t go to school this year if such drastic measures aren’t brought to bear. Yes, I factor in a hierarchy of need into my political and policy thought: it is called common sense.
What chills me is the slow pace of the public schools to recover, and I wonder: with the resources already so slow in coming, with the work so overwhelming, will they ever? Us Democrats and Southern Liberals should see the importance of this recovery for what it is: the line in the sand, the referendum on public schools as a shared American value. Right now, our side is losing this fight in spectacular fashion.
Madame Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Dean, we need that 101st Hour.