Friday, February 20, 2009

School vouchers: People are capable of making their own decisions
by Susan Laccetti Meyers
Georgia Online News Service

Tell me again why parents and their children shouldn't be able to use their own tax dollars to transfer to the public or private school of their choice?

A Clayton County mother was recently convicted of a felony along with her brother-in-law, a retired Atlanta police officer, for using her brother-in-law's address to enroll her teenage son in a Henry County high school. Tanja Hale was found guilty of making false statements for swearing she was a Henry resident to enroll her son at Luella High to get him a better education. Clayton County has been the subject of national attention as it became the first school system in 40 years this past fall to lose its accreditation. Since losing its accreditation, Clayton has lost about 3,500 pupils.

Parents also have "illegally" enrolled their students in Fulton, Fayette and Douglas County school systems this academic year, according to officials in those school systems. Each year, children throughout the state "break the law" and enroll in schools they "don't belong in" by giving the address of a family member or friend to enroll in a high-achieving school or school district. Instead, their parents would rather have the option to transfer to a closer public or private school that meets their needs.

After two decades of following public education as a journalist then a legislative policy advisor, I have witnessed no return on escalating taxpayer investment in public education. We've dropped from 41st to 49th in graduation rates since the Quality Basic Education Act was drafted in the mid 1980s, according to a new study by The Center for an Educated Georgia. We're still at the bottom, 47th in SAT scores.

In a school system such as DeKalb County, 89 percent minority and 66 percent free and reduced lunch, parents have embraced transfer programs to move to better schools on the north side of the district since the 1980s. Don't tell me the poor can't make good choices for their children.

Just after the Berlin Wall fell in the early 1990s, I traveled to the Baltic States of the former Soviet Union and to East Berlin. Those first experiencing freedom didn't know how to make basic decisions such as what job they wanted, if they cared to vote or if they desired to express themselves publicly.

Government in a Soviet system would determine their occupation, where they would live and where they could travel. Only the privileged, the families of the Politburo ever had an opportunity at a quality education.

Unfortunately, we in America have one have segment of society that fully resembles the USSR - how we educate children. Only the fortunate, those who can afford a good address or the ability to pay for taxes and private school tuition, can send their child to the school of their choice.

Think about it. If we are willing to arrest, charge and fine parents such as Tanja Hale, are we really all that different than the Communists in the former Soviet Union?

Like those who scratched and clawed to escape the jaws of the Eastern Bloc, this Clayton mom wanted a better life for her son and freedom for her family. But our government currently denies her.

With state Senator Eric Johnson's proposal to give vouchers to Georgia children to transfer to any public or private school, there is hope. The Wall can come down. I say, Tear Down that Wall and give all Georgia children educational freedom and a better tomorrow.

Susan Laccetti Meyers was a member of the Atlanta Journal editorial board.   [full bio]


Editor's note: Hello, Georgia.

Our top story from around the state concerns the future of nuclear power expansion. A Georgia House subcommittee this afternoon gave its overwhelming approval to move ahead and a final full House vote could come as early as Tuesday. We have a full report for you today with comments from representatives from around the state.

We've also included two other stories for your weekend editions the value that older workers bring to the workplace and a commentary on the ongoing debate about the value of school vouchers.

All three are solid, thought-provoking reads.

As always, we'd like to hear from you. GONSO is an enterprise founded and staffed by more than two dozen leading journalists and media executives in Georgia. We're providing content free -- for a limited period. Newspapers, broadcasters, bloggers and websites are welcome to use our articles -- please credit the writers and the Georgia Online News Service.

Send your comments and any story ideas to executive editor John Sugg at john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org. You can also call us at 800-891-3459.


Today's GONSO

Nuclear Finance Bill Sails through House Panel

by Maggie Lee
In an 11-1 vote with one abstention, a Georgia House subcommittee has endorsed the controversial Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act, meaning the bill could come before the whole House as early as Tuesday.
Full Story

Economy is toughest for (best) older workers

by Nadirah Z. Sabir
Baby boomers are showing the bruises from a volatile job market in a youth-obsessed culture. Yet, from all indicators, companies will desperately need older workers to fill skilled labor gaps in the coming decade.
Full Story

SOAPBOX

School vouchers: People are capable of making their own decisions

by Susan Laccetti Meyers
A small business owner and former member of the Atlanta Journal editorial board thinks parents should be able to use their own tax dollars to transfer their children to the public or private school of their choice.
Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
The Oscars: Wondrously Inventive and Well Executed, With a Gloss of Genuine Sentiment
by Eleanor Ringel Cater
Nuclear Finance Bill Breezes through House Committee
by Maggie Lee
Congressman Sanford Bishop: A Powerful Peanut Industry Politico
by Maynard Eaton
To Better Serve Georgia, the DOT Must Change
by Sonny Perdue, Casey Cagle and Glenn Richardson

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