Teresa Meredith is a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association.
As politicians and lawyers debate the constitutional validity and political implications of the Indiana Supreme Court's recent decision regarding school vouchers, those who spend our days in the classroom continue to ask the very same question that nags at us on all pressing education issues: Will it help my students succeed?
It's a question that consumes us daily. That's because we came to the profession with the hope of making a significant difference in the lives of our students - to teach them, to mold them, to help them become our nation's leaders, healers, innovators and, yes, teachers.
I started my career in a Catholic school as a kindergarten teacher and have since moved on to teaching in one of Indiana's great public schools. Having taught in both settings, I have a good understanding of what students need to succeed. Proponents argue that vouchers make things better for all students by creating an environment of competition. In my 23 years of teaching, I have never known a teacher or a school to perform better because they are competing for resources. There is simply no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that giving vouchers to a small percentage of poor parents somehow motivates educators to teach better, or students to learn more.
To the contrary, taking away the tools and resources we desperately need hurts most kids. It doesn't take a constitutional scholar to figure out that our students will be more successful if we invest in their actual needs, rather than a theoretical economic model. What they need is smaller class sizes that allow for more individual attention, increased parental involvement, better resources and qualified, caring, committed classroom teachers. These are the ingredients that help prepare students for the jobs of the future.
Unfortunately, the decision by the Indiana Supreme Court comes at a time when most states are being forced to cut education budgets and lay off teachers and other essential school personnel. Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars by funding subsidies for a small percentage of Indiana's children, we should focus on what we know works best.
Funding needs to be leveled up for inner city and rural schools. Class sizes need to be reduced. Qualified teachers need to be recruited and retained. Tutors need to be provided for students who are having trouble learning to read. We have to make schools more inviting for families so that they will become more involved in their kids' education. We need to bring back the school nurse. We need art, physical education and music. We need computers. Most of all, we need to find real, common-sense solutions that serve every student – not just schemes that serve a small percentage of them.
Sadly, the simple truth is voucher schemes are not about school reform. They're about ideology and politics. But that's not what teachers and parents care about – we care about our children's success. Voucher schemes abandon the vast majority of our kids, leaving them with fewer resources and diminished public support. Instead of creating a system that forces our children to compete over scarce resources, we need to invest in our public schools.
Lawyers and lawmakers are right to question the constitutional validity of voucher schemes because they funnel taxpayer dollars into religious education. But as a teacher and mother of four, I'm back to my own original question: Do voucher programs help Indiana's children succeed? And the simple answer is: No, they do not.