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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Where do Hawaii State Leaders Send Their Children for School?

According to this KITV investigation, “half of the children of state lawmakers attend private school, which is three times the rate of the rest of Hawaii’s school-aged population. And nearly two-thirds of state lawmakers never had a child enrolled in the public school system they oversee.”

The report is very telling, though I don’t think for the immediately obvious reason. KITV’s investigation shows what state leaders think of the schools they run, and this is important, revealing information. For citizens frustrated with the state of education in Hawaii, it’s tempting to take the next step and think “Hypocrites!” when looking at legislators who oversee the troubled public schools while sending their children off to private schools. It’s tempting to think that those who run the state's schools ought to be required to send their own children to them.

I’d sympathize with that sentiment, but disagree. That’s a version of the chicken-hawk argument, the political bludgeon some politicians themselves reach for when they want to score points on hawkish colleagues who don’t themselves have children in the military to put at risk.

You don’t need to have a kid in public school to have an opinion on the schools. Even citizens with no children at all have every right to insist on a quality public education for all, and so do parents—whether they are legislators or not—who choose to send their kids to private schools. The public schools belong to all of us, and we all pay for them to perform a mission we agree is vital to a healthy democracy.

To me the maddening thing is that these leaders who can make a choice between the two school systems do little to extend that choice to the rest of the public. They could do so any number of ways—vouchers that parents could use for any school they choose; or a massive expansion of the charter school system; or even just improving the public schools, so that the people who lack the means these legislators possess to make a choice don’t have to feel stuck with what they've been given. 

Posted on Saturday, May 22, 2010 in Permalink

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