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Public education is the cornerstone of American success

“Education, then, beyond all other divides of human origin, is a great equalizer of conditions of men—the balance wheel of the social machinery.” — Horace Mann Free, universal public education is something that most people take for granted in modern America. It is one of those utilities of modern life that people take for granted, along with well-maintained highways and a reliable power grid.

As we take time to mark National Public School week, it is hard to imagine an America where education was restricted only to those who could afford to pay tuition or who were a specific gender or whose skin was a specific color. It is hard to imagine an America where what, by whom and how you were taught was decided not by a locally elected board with guidance from state standards, but by religious or political doctrine. It is hard to imagine an America where access to education was limited to only the able-bodied and those deemed physically or mentally incapable warehoused in institutions or kept forcefully in ignorance.

It is hard to imagine these things because modern America was built on Horace Mann’s ideal that universal public education is the rising tide that raises all ships. It is the investment in the public education which took America from the Wright Brothers to the moon landing in under 70 years. It is public education which provides the foundation of learning and which serves to reinforce the glue that binds America together as one nation.

Each school day 846,693 students attend one of the 2,176 public schools across the state of Wisconsin. Across the country, nearly 47.8 million students attend the more than 90,300 public schools.

Parents of those students can feel confident that their daughters and sons are in the capable hands of caring and highly qualified teachers and professionals. They know that their children with special needs are accommodated and provided opportunities to grow and advance regardless of if they are among the brightest of the educational stars or among those in need of additional help.

Public education cannot pick and choose among possible students, but is there for all students.

A fundamental part of public education is that, as with all public institutions, it is responsible to the public. The rules put in place at the state level were written, and can be rewritten, by elected members of the legislature. At the local level, decisions are made and policies set by elected boards who are beholden to the will of the local voters.

It has become trendy for special interest groups and politicians controlled by special interests to take potshots at public education and seek to undermine public schools through an ongoing effort to divert tax dollars to unregulated and unaccountable private programs.

In Wisconsin, public education took a hit in the last budget, with legislators choosing politics over their responsibility to students and families and forcing them to use one-time federal funds to fill in budget shortfalls. As they craft a new biennial budget, legislators must stand up for public school students, parents and teachers and provide schools with the resources they need to face ongoing challenges and to continue to prepare students for life beyond the schoolhouse doors.