Maddie Di Muccio is a parent in Newmarket (just north of Toronto) and the President of “The Society for Quality Education“, a group that advocates for public funding of charter schools and school vouchers, based on the same rationale that is being used by groups in the USA. She and ed•vocāte’s Howard Goodman were invited to debate the value of elected Trustees on TVO’s premier public affairs show “The Agenda with Steve Paikin”. (Howard also provided his views on elected Trustees in a one-on-one discussion with Steve in 2014.)
The discussion between ed•vocāte’s Howard Goodman and Ms. Di Muccio skirted around, but didn’t address, two questions at the heart of her disagreement with ed•vocāte’s strong support for elected trustees:
- How do charter or private schools compare to public schools?
- What is the long-term effect on a democratic society’s prosperity and stability of a school system that allows communities to self-segregate?
ed•vocāte’s position on both these questions is clear:
- Research indicates that public school students do as well those of the same socio-economic background who attend private and charter schools.
- When parental preference is the primary driving factor in the type of school a child attends, social and economic stratification increases. This inter-group alienation reduces the ability and willingness to engage in civil political debate. Dismantling a universal school system undermines the common purpose of providing high quality education for every child, leading to reluctance by those families who have secured good schooling to insist that every school has the resources it needs to support its students. Humans, even those with the best of intentions, are inherently short-sighted and focussed on personal benefit. Extensive research into the “Tragedy of the Commons” has shown that in many cases the free market’s “invisible hand” leads to disaster.
Education, like vaccination, is a social good that requires mass participation to be effective. As long as vaccination rates remain above the “collective immunity” threshold, it is unlikely that a disease will become epidemic. Even those “free-riders” who refuse vaccination are protected. But if the number of “free-riders” become too great, collective immunity fails, leading the way to catastrophic epidemics.
An analogous situation exists between a strong public education system (vaccination) and a peaceful prosperous democratic society (healthy epidemic-free population). If the number of inadequately educated citizens (unvaccinated people) rises too high, income mobility stalls, the economy stagnates, and social unrest increases as a permanent “under-class” of people with little hope in the future forms. When this happens the quality of life of even the wealthiest and best educated can plummet; living lavishly in a heavily-guarded gated community surrounded by abject poverty isn’t a lot of fun (epidemic).
As long as a large part of a society depends on and supports a robust universal public education system, it is likely that its schools will be well-funded and of high quality. When a family chooses a private, charter, or voucher school it is natural for their support of and interest in universal public schooling drops. The danger is that they will be less inclined to pay taxes to ensure that every child in a universal public school is properly supported.
This situation already exists in parts of the USA where it is not a priority to ensure that enough State and Federal funds are available to support great school in low-income areas with a limited local tax-base. Tax-payers in affluent districts with excellent schools funded through a healthy local tax-base are insulated from the damage caused by poor quality, under-funded, schools. The result of this is a vicious downward spiral:
- less money for universal public schools in all but the most affluent areas →
- reduced quality of those schools →
- increased demand for vouchers and charter schools for children living in areas with under-funded schools of marginal-quality →
- fewer people who care about the quality of public schools →
- further erosion of support for adequate taxation to support public school excellence →
- less money for universal public schools in all but the most affluent areas.
Ultimately this leads to crumbling cities and towns, a stagnant economy, more crime and multi-generational poverty, and increased social assistance costs. The best way to prevent these problems is to ensure every universal public school properly supports its students’ well-being and achievement.
(In Ontario public schools are funded solely out of provincial taxes. Since 1998, the so-called “education” tax on a municipal tax bills goes into provincial general revenue, and the funding of local schools is set completely by complex a Provincial “funding formula”. This broad public support to use taxation to pay for school excellence is a key reason that Canadian students do so well on international studies, particularly in comparison to American students.)