Sometimes debates can haunt candidates. Al Gore may still be kicking himself for talking in one of last year's presidential debates about Kailey, the Sarasota, Fla., student who had to stand during her science class because "they can't squeeze another desk in for her." The next day Kailey's principal set the record straight-Kailey stood only on the first day of school as schedules were arranged-and the issue quickly became Al Gore's veracity, or gullibility.
But sometimes the debates we don't have can haunt a nation. Content to lambast their opponents, Republicans last fall didn't ask the basic question: Even if Kailey really was deskless, why couldn't the people of Sarasota provide one? Why wait on Washington? Kailey's science classroom, after all, had state-of-the-art technology, including computers at lab stations. Shouldn't it be up to the people of Sarasota to decide whether they want to spend money on personnel, technology, desks, or something else?
As it turns out, if Sarasota schools down the road have economic problems, it's because of a decision by Sarasota voters. In 1994 they passed a local referendum that gave the school district additional funding. Last year they voted down continuation of that funding, and some class sizes increased. Maybe the voters were right, maybe they were wrong-but, in a democracy, is it the job of the federal government to override local decisions? Should tax payments taken from residents of other cities pay for what Sarasota voters decide not to fund?
We did not have that debate last fall, and this fall we are staring at a federal education bill that is unlikely to produce the benefits it promises. Even worse, schoolchildren often learn to be not citizens but obedient consumers. Are there alternatives? Articles that follow examine education tax credits in Arizona and Ontario, inner-city classical Christian education, opportunities for homeschool athletes, homeschool and classroom blends, and other innovations that could readily be implemented on the local or state levels.