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Column: Voucher program, other reforms weaken state’s public education

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Students are not blueberries. Schools are not businesses.

There is a story made famous by Diane Ravitch about an ice cream executive who was schooled when he spoke to a group of Indiana teachers.

His company had been recognized for its work in total quality management, and his blueberry ice cream was voted the best in the country by various publications. His message was that if he ran his business the way the schools run their educational institutions, he would be out of business.

Just look at his business: Only the highest quality ingredients, only the highest quality processes and only the highest quality product is delivered to the consumer.

During the question-and-answer session, a veteran teacher set a trap. She asked the executive what he would do if he came down to the dock and the shipment of blueberries was not of the highest quality.

Though he felt the trap closing, the executive had to answer that he would, in fact, send the blueberries back.

The teacher, of course, made the point that in a free public school we take all comers. We don’t send any students back, and we have no throwaway students. Not only do we not return our imperfect “blueberries,” we cherish them regardless of the challenges.

And that is why schools are not businesses.

I believe in the Jeffersonian vision of the separation of church and state. I respect parents’ right to choose public or private education. However, the current practice of allowing public dollars to flow to private K-12 schools via a voucher program is wrong.

If private schools (the vast majority are church-affiliated) are to take public dollars, then they should have to play by the same rules as public schools.

That is not the case with student admission and student services. Private schools can accept, reject and remove students with vouchers at their pleasure. They can refuse to admit the student based on religion, economic background, academic record, English as a second language, academic need and so on.

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, “Taxpayers spent more than $36 million last year on schools not required to provide many of the services public schools must offer.”

Great public schools are the responsibility of a democratic society. The problem with much of the current school reform, including vouchers, is that it weakens society’s responsibility to provide and keep improving education for all students. It shifts the responsibility to the private schools or the business sector.

If you believe in a free and public education for all, society’s responsibility is weakened.

If you believe the future of democracy is dependent upon the place where more than 90 percent of the students are educated, then the current reform efforts weaken future citizenry.

John Quick is superintendent of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

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