Many if not most citizens appreciate the immense value that high-quality public schools bring to our community. Missouri’s constitution provides for free public education because a general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence “is essential to the rights and liberties of the people.” Simply put, public education is the bedrock of democracy.
It would be dangerous to allow the current attacks on our schools to go unanswered. There is a concerted effort to take over local school boards by those who would divert public money to myriad, unaccountable private schools, including religious institutions. This would severely undermine our public schools.
Public schools unite us. At a time when we often see growing division, our schools bring our communities together. We are experiencing growing inequities across society, particularly with the deepening divide in wealth. This is no time to use our education system to further segregate ourselves. Our schools are the only institution in which citizens of all races, creeds, religions, social standing, and economic condition come together to form a united community.
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We believe that public money should be used for public schools. Parental choice sounds appealing. But it really means that our local public schools would be drained of the vital resources they need to fulfill their mission. The direct and indirect diversion of money from public schools through voucher and tax credit schemes fuels inequity and division. It would be catastrophic for our local public schools. We don’t need five or 20 or 50 publicly funded school systems in each area. We need one, and it needs to be really good. In particular, government funding of religious institutions is a bad idea on many levels and inevitably results in the violation of the religious freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment.
There is so much to celebrate in our local schools. Every day, teachers, staff and administrators go to work to unselfishly give of themselves, often under very trying circumstances, to change the world for the better, one child at a time. They deserve our support and gratitude. They deserve our respect. They labor in a world in which those with less learn alongside those with more. Teachers foster an environment in which the opportunity to succeed in America is placed before every child. Their success and that of their students often goes unheralded.
They bring hope to the hopeless, inspiration to the indifferent, justice and equity to those who have been left behind. They challenge the gifted and motivate all students in every part of our state to be the best they can be. They create critical thinkers and place within their students a lifelong thirst for knowledge and wisdom and motivation. They celebrate diversity and say no to bigotry, hatred, and violence fueled by ignorance. Public schools enrich our lives.
Those who would tear our schools down often cite instances where schools have fallen short. They use manufactured culture war issues and slogans that fuel division and fear. Everyone wants accountability to taxpayers, transparency and efficiency in our schools. The difference is we believe that we improve our schools and hold them accountable not by robbing them of resources but by ensuring they have the resources needed to meet the demands placed upon them. We understand that great public schools mean strong and prosperous neighborhoods and communities. Freedom itself depends on good public schools. We recognize that not all of society’s ills can be solved in the classroom. But we know that without high quality public schools, those problems get worse.
We strongly believe that the effort to make school board elections partisan is seriously misguided. We reject the endorsement of slates of school board candidates by county political parties. We seek to build a nonpartisan movement and welcome independents, Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals and moderates who support public education. We understand that governance is always political to some extent, but we believe that our families and our communities are best served by a school system that avoids the excesses of partisan politics.
It is exciting to see the many organic movements that have recently arisen to support our schools. These groups want the governance of our local school districts to be in the hands of those who value public education and who want to continue the work of building institutions that serve all citizens. We have formed St. Charles County Families for Public Schools to provide an avenue for those who love our schools to get involved and to make a positive difference.
Ted House is a former state senator and circuit judge in St. Charles County. Pamela Sloan is a retired teacher and former school district superintendent in St. Charles County. Mary Hendricks-Harris, a retired teacher and former school district superintendent in St. Charles County, also contributed.