Education is an important topic for all of us. I have five children, three in college. My kids have always attended local public schools in the Reynolds School District (Troutdale Elementary, Walt Morey Middle Schoold, Reynolds High School), the only exception being two years of public school in Maihama, Japan, just outside of Tokyo. (We know what its like to be the only ones in school who don’t speak the language, and we know how much work it takes to catch up to the rest of the class). I have always appreciated my own public school teachers and the education opportunities that our public schools have provided to me and my family. My familily’s experience, over 19 years, with our local public schools has been a good one, and I want to thank the teachers and administrators who have served our family’s many needs. There is no greater calling in life than to pass wisdom and learning on to the next generation. I hope that I am able to contribute to fulfillment of that responsibility in some small way over the course of my life.
Whenever I think about education, I think about my dad. He went back to school when he was in his thirties to puruse his teaching passion. He loved kids, especially underdogs. He developed a special needs program in St. Maries, Idaho, and was awarded the Wings of Mind for his innovations. After that, he went to the North Slope in Alaska, where he taught public school in Pt. Hope, Barrow, and Kaktovik. He loved working with the Inupdiat people and sharing their culture and daily life. I wish I could have spent some time on the North Slope with him, and now that he’s gone I hope that I can honor his memory by supporting rational education policy and helping to put our children first. He left many grandchildren behind.
From a legal and political perspective, I believe that education is a state and local issue, and that more school choice empowers families and gets parents and children alike engaged in owning their own destinies. In this context, I support charter schools and appreciate the opportunity I have to volunteer at the MLA Charter School in Fairview, where I am learning alot! I am amazed at how school leaders are able to satisfy the myriad of state and federal mandates on limited resources. Charter schools are, I believe, the waive of the future. They provide a path forward with respect to choice in our district within the existing public school infrastructure. This is a good thing. A lot of people depend on public schools today, and it is going to be that way for a very long time into the future. So, I support making them as good as they can be and growing the number of charter schools to add a little leaven while moving in the direction of choice.
As a parent trying to work within the public school system, my biggest criticism is that by the time a real issue works its way down from the state and federal level, it is too late for parents to really do anything about it. In my experience, parents engage then give up after beating their heads against the wall. The feeling that the state and federal governments are dictating education policy to our children, and deciding when and what they learn, is frightening and creates fear among parents. It is this fear, I believe, derived from the real experience of being helpless before the giant educational machine, that alienates so many of our citizens from public education. Parents need to feel in control when it comes to the safety and welfare of their children, and parents rightly demand a strong say in the values that their children are taught. Increasing school choice through charter schools, vouchers, and other programs can really help, but let’s be pragmatic.
Alot has been said about President Obama’s efforts to expand federal financial aid for college. From a constitutional perspective, I don’t believe that the federal government should be in the education business, but of all the programs that governments variously contribute to, education is the one thing that is clearly an investment in our future, and the very last place we should be looking to cut in our federal, state and local budgets. Holding the children hostage during every budget cycle has simply got to stop. It is arbitrary and capricious. I am particularly sensitive to the need for financial aid for motivated students to attend college. Responsible for my own educational costs and expenses, I was grateful for the opportunities that the Pell Grant and Stafford Loan programs created for me, and I hope that we can continue to extend those opportunities to others in the future (while getting rid of all the unfunded mandates and other federal controls first). As we look for human creativity and enterprise to drive this nation forward and provide the innovation that we are going to need to cross the abyss that now faces us, we must do whatever it takes to educate our citizens so that they are capable of competing in the most demanding fields of science and technology.
So, lets balance the federal budget, but let’s also face the future and keep investing in education and research. If we fail, these are opportunities lost with long term consequences.