You Bet I Support Public Education -- In My Own Politically Incorrect Way

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You Bet I Support Public Education --
In My Own Politically Incorrect Way

by State Senator John Andrews, April 1999

I am an educator if I am anything. Since before finishing college in 1966, I have been devoted to helping kids from all backgrounds realize their potential, academically, morally, and civically. Improving education for all children is one of the main reasons I ran for the Colorado Senate. My legislative record reflects that. So I was outraged last month when the Denver Post teamed up with Democrats to smear me with a baseless charge of seeking to "destroy public schools."

Pushing the system to do better, striving for a less coercive educational approach, is hardly an agenda to destroy. A constructive, not destructive, agenda of less coercion is what I'm all about. That's why my name is on a vision statement hoping for a day when schools are no longer weighed down by government with its huge costs and stifling rules. The goal is freedom and opportunity, just the opposite of an alleged plan for "dumping" anyone or anything. What then is my position on public schools? I believe that schools should absolutely be public, open to all students who are willing to learn.

I believe that education should be under local control, which ultimately means parental control. I believe that parents ought to have the widest possible choice of schools, matching their child's needs and their family's beliefs, and this is the only true accountability. I believe that schools should be funded from each family's resources to the extent possible, then voluntarily from the community, then with tax subsidies to the remaining extent necessary for equity. I believe we shouldn't politically dictate how children are taught what is true or what is right. I believe that unionism degrades the teaching profession. I agree with the late Albert Shanker, himself a teacher union leader, that there are Soviet aspects to American education.

I believe that the remedy for all of this is less coercion. I also believe we need to clear up some definitions. Something can be "public" without being government-controlled. Consider public information, public debate, public opinion. Something can be "public" without being universal or superlative. Consider public assistance, public transit, public hospitals. Openness and inclusivity are the fundamentals that make something public, and schooling in our country will only become more that way as its voluntary component increases.

Look. I really object to being made out as another Unabomber, simply because I was one of several thousand signers on a Proclamation for Separation of School and State, several years before entering the Senate. Not a pledge of action and certainly not a legislative bill, this paper just expressed the general set of beliefs I've outlined here, looking to an unknown future time. In the here and now, I am "pledged" to nothing but gradual, responsible improvement of the educational status quo.

The only bills I am supporting are ones that seek consensus within the bounds of current political realities, bills on charter schools and vouchers, board elections and union powers. I have no agenda whatsoever (as if it needed to be said!) for "ending" public education, "destroying" the schools, "dumping" on families, or making things harder for our dedicated teachers as they work to help all children learn. My agenda about is putting children first, for I am an educator if I am anything.

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