Last week I attended a meeting during which the idea of education-choice vouchers came up. The person who spoke up in favor of this approach began by asking this simple question: "Do you believe in competition?"
His point was clear. If parents and students have a choice as to where they can attend school and if they can use public money to make those choices, including paying tuition for private education, schools will be forced to compete for the funding and just naturally become better at what they do or go out of business.
Free market forces to the rescue again.
What is always missing in these discussions are the facts facing large urban school districts today. Vouchers simply will not solve the problems facing our public schools. In fact, funding private schools with public funds will only weaken our already struggling public systems where the vast majority of our children attend classes.
A few years ago, a young man dropped by my office to discuss his plans to run for a seat on our school board. He has since become a good friend.
He started the conversation that day by asking me, "Larry, in your opinion, what is the number one problem facing the DISD today?"
I didn't have to think for even a second to reply with my one-word answer, "Poverty."
I pulled this quote from our school district's website:
"The Dallas ISD is the 12th largest school district in the nation with a diverse population of more than 160,000 students. Almost 70 different languages are spoken in the homes of our students. Serving these students are more than 19,000 employees, making the Dallas ISD one of the largest employers in the city."
What the website doesn't report is this astounding fact: 90% of the students in DISD schools come from households that live at or below the poverty level.
Think about that statistic for a moment.
Over 144,000 students living in poverty in the school district serving one of the wealthiest cities in the world!
It is my opinion that the DISD is doing good work.
Even more importantly, I believe the district improves year-by-year.
One reason this is true is that our superintendent, Dr. Michael Hinojosa, understands the reality of poverty and its pervasive affect on our schools.
Until the rest of us come to understand this reality and its impact on students and families, we will continue to struggle as a community when it comes to educating our children, all of our children.