Background for non-Americans: the US school system is a disaster, with very uneven quality. You have some good school districts, and you have some really bad ones, and it’s all just pretty crazy. Very different from back in Finland, where education isn’t just good, it’s fairly reliably good. You don’t have to worry too much about which school you go to, because while there are certainly differences, they simply don’t tend to be all that marked.
In the US, if you care about education, you end up having to make sure you live in a good school district. Or you do the whole private school thing, or try to make sure you can transfer, or whatever. The one thing you do not do is to just take it for granted. You work at it.
I’m not a huge believer in private schools, and I actually wanted my kids to be able to walk to their friends houses, so we made sure to move to one of the better districts in Oregon.
Now, living in a good school district means that you end up paying a lot more for housing, so it’s not actually necessarily really any cheaper than sending your kids to a private school. But you do also end up being in a community where people care about education, so it’s not just the school: it’s the whole environment around you and your kids.
But it’s unquestionably unfair, and it unquestionably means that people who can afford it get a better education in the US. Despite the whole “public” part of the US public school system, it’s like so much else in the US: you don’t want to be poor. The whole “American Dream” is pretty much a fairy tale.
So the Oregon legislature is trying to fix the unfairness. Which I very much understand, because I really do detest the whole US school system – it was always one of the things that we talked about being a possible reason to move back to Finland when the kids needed to go to school. We ended up learning how the US system works, and made it work for us, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like the situation. Because I’ve seen better.
So why is trying to make things fairer a peeve?
The way the Oregon legislature is trying to fix things isn’t by making the average school better, it’s by trying to make it hard to have the (fairly few) bright spots around.
In particular, let’s say that you do have a good school district, where people not only end up paying for it in the property taxes (which is what largely funds the school), but also by having special local tax bonds for the school in addition to the big fund-raisers every year. Because the public US school funding just isn’t that great, so the local community ends up fixing it – to the point of literally raising much of the money to build a new building etc.
The US outspends and underperforms. More
Portland schools’ 2012-2013 budget is $687,513,063 for 47,000 students or 14,627.93/student. Madison will spend $14,527/student during the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
US teacher content knowledge requirements are lag other countries.
Oregon HB 2748
Notes and links on Sweden’s voucher system and Finland’s schools.