If we want to help students, we should start by fully funding public education.

The July 18 op-ed titled "Let parents wield school spending power" correctly observes that Oregon needs to do more for our students. However, instead of offering real solutions to strengthen public schools, the author, Kathryn Hickok, argues for using taxpayer dollars to send students to private schools.

FILE PHOTO - Left to right, John Larson and Hanna Vaandering of the Oregon Education Association.In my 25 years teaching high school language arts in Hermiston and Morrow County, not once did I meet a parent of a struggling student who thought the solution was to transfer to a private school. We know that parents and students don't want to abandon their public schools; they want to improve them with modern textbooks and more programs such as art, music, and PE. Most importantly, they want small class sizes so that teachers are able to give each student individualized attention.

If we want to help students, we should start by fully funding public education. Oregon's recently passed budget is nearly $2 billion short of what we know is required to meet students' needs. Defunding public education in favor of a privatized system only ensures that students who have the highest needs and the least financial resources are the ones deprived of a high-quality learning environment.

The author mentions Arizona as an early adopter of school vouchers. However, she doesn't mention how Arizona's program has been dogged by scandal and poor performance. An investigation found that the program was often used by wealthy families to send their students to private school at little to no cost while an already strained public education system was forced to attempt to do more with less.

A study released by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that students in Ohio's voucher program, "fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools."

Despite mounting research that shows voucher programs do nothing to improve student performance, President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have promised to spend millions to promote voucher schemes.

Voucher proponents are right that far too many students in poverty struggle in school. What they don't say is that vouchers often increase the opportunity gap. These programs contain barriers that make them inaccessible to the most disadvantaged students. Private schools are legally allowed to discriminate when it comes to the topic of "choice"; it is not the parent but the private school that gets to choose whom to admit.

Additionally, vouchers often cover only a portion of private school tuition, which can cost upwards of $30,000 per year. On top of this are transportation, textbook, and uniform expenses that make attending private school, even with a voucher, cost-prohibitive for most Oregon families.

In many cases, these programs are simply a way for privileged students to receive taxpayer-subsidized tuition while underfunding the public schools that the vast majority of students attend.

If we are serious about educational opportunity for all students, let's do what we know works. This means fully funding our public schools so that students have a well-rounded curriculum, class sizes that are small enough for one-to-one attention, and support services such as school nurses, healthy food options, counseling and after-school programs for students who need them.

What all children need is a well-equipped neighborhood school where they can learn, be inspired, and thrive.

C. John Larson is president of the Oregon Education Association. The OEA is a union that represents about 44,000 educators working in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 in public schools and community colleges.

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