A level playing field

"I think the founders of this country had it right in creating public schools to level the playing field for all children."

Craig Westover posted this Saint Paul school district superintendent Pat Harvey quote from the Pioneer Press as part of his discussion of the "education access grant" legislation (bill numbers SF0736/HF0697) sponsored by Sen. David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) and Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan). The bill aims to level the playing field for poor families in the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts by enabling them to apply for "education access grants" to send a child to any accredited, non-public Minnesota school of their choice.

Yet Dr. Harvey opposes the bill, calling it "an insult to the students, families and staff in St. Paul. It's a kick in the teeth" and an attack on the St. Paul schools. I surmise from these sentiments that Dr. Harvey would not favor another bill to allow the Minnesota education tax credit to be used for tuition expenses (HF0866/SF0763).

If the purpose of government-funded public education is to perpetuate itself, then these bills could be construed as an "attack," but even then only if they resulted in a mass exodus from the public schools. But this would never happen. As Dr. Harvey herself said, Saint Paul Schools have had "six years of success in raising student achievement, showing dramatic increases among students living in poverty and those who come from homes where English is not spoken as proof that parents don't need vouchers to find quality." And as Minneapolis Schools Chief of Staff Steven Belton said, "The bill seems to me to be a remedy in search of a problem," and he's seen no data that suggest that a public-to-private-school transfer raises student performance. So why not give low-income parents who want it a choice?

(For the record, the founders did not "create" the public schools as we know them today. Public schools as we know them today are a more recent development. But vis-à-vis education, I think that the founders were more concerned with preserving and nurturing our new system of self-government than they were with "leveling the playing field." In particular, equality was not too much of a priority in the southern colonies back then.)