March 1, 2023

Robert Lee: Everyone benefits from public schools

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Robert Lee is a retired social worker who lives in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. In this guest editorial for the Tahlequah Daily Press, he points out the value of public schools.

From the Tahlequah Tigers to the Guymon Tigers, from the Hulbert Riders to the Hobart Bearcats, and from the Keys Pirates to the Poteau Pirates, we see community pride and unity coalesce around the schools. I graduated from public schools, and believed I got an excellent education and had dedicated teachers and administrators. And after school, what did we do? Football games, basketball games, track, drama club, band, choir, and glee club.

Our lives, and most of our parents’ lives, were built around a common understanding that there is value in supporting public education. In each of those schools, I suspect, there were rich and poor kids, but in the small towns where I went to school – Enid, Guymon, and Yukon – we were mostly friends and supported one another. We didn’t always “hang out” together, but when it came time to support our school, there was only one to support.

In larger cities, and even in Yukon in those days, there were private schools – often religiously-affiliated – where some kids went to school. We didn’t know much about those schools or the kids – at least, I didn’t. Our focus was on our school. The communities supported the schools through taxes and bond elections, fundraisers, PTA, homecoming parades, and graduation celebrations. When parents wanted to send their kids to private schools, they did what they had to in order to pay for it. They knew going in that it was their choice, and their kids could go to the public schools, but they chose otherwise. Their choice.

Since the inception of public education as envisioned by Horace Mann, it has worked pretty darn well. But now we have some politicians who have decided their way is better, and public dollars should go equally to those private schools and even to parents who choose to home school their kids. One of their arguments is those are taxpaying citizens, and they shouldn’t have to help pay for the education of other children and not derive any benefit themselves. That makes as much sense as saying if I don’t drive, I shouldn’t have to pay taxes to build streets. The benefits we derive from the “commons” are not always direct. Even if I have no children, my doctor is someone’s child, and they received a good education, most likely from public schools, and I benefit from their education.

Read the full op-ed here. 

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