The school fund of the state shall be kept inviolate

hainesAs the words from the Constitution of Maryland imply, education constituted a critical function for the framers of representative government in promoting the general welfare.

Emphasizing the essential nature of education for the maintenance of liberty, James Madison wrote, “a well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.”

Centuries later, however, our nation is more fixated on Madison’s desire “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority” by ensuring only children of the affluent receive an entire education while forsaking our egalitarian ideals. What other conclusion can we draw when 78 percent of those receiving vouchers already had their children in private school?

An individual’s decision to seek an alternative to public education must not obviate that citizen’s moral responsibility to support the common good of an equitable and adequate public education for all. We all reap the benefits of a well-educated citizenry.

After spending a teaching career in a majority-poverty school system, could anyone anticipate my support for a policy that preferentially subsidizes the education of those upon whom fortune has already smiled, especially when it comes at the expense of the impoverished among us?

If the neighborhood school is inadequately resourced to address the needs of your child, then that school is insufficiently equipped for your neighbor’s child as well. It is unconscionable that we permit such conditions to exist for the children of entire zip codes, let alone any individual child. Whose children are you willing to consign to scant opportunities for a well-rounded education?

At no point in my career was the annual rite of formulating a “wish list” anything more than an exercise in abject futility. Across my quarter of a century in the classroom, personal expenditures for classroom “necessities” always exceeded the federal tax deduction. Over-crowded classrooms were definitely the rule; exposure to the elements while delivering instruction could seldom be ruled out entirely.

The public schools require more resources, not fewer.

Those in power may enact policies that advantage the affluent few, facilitating a divide-and-conquer strategy after this poisonous political season. The times demand steadfastness in the belief that the best hope for remaining a democratic republic dwells in the neighborhood schools.

Protecting the interests of the voiceless among us will require tenacity and courage. We must question the anti-public education agenda of the President-elect’s appointment for secretary of education, and the siphoning of $10 million from the public coffers into private schools by the governor of Maryland, and the charterizing of the public schools in the name of private profit by the neo-conservative faction. Advocates of social justice for children would be well served to heed one more piece of advice from James Madison: “The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.”

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