Compass: Good parents, not vouchers, key to success in any school

By DONNA WALKERFebruary 4, 2014 

Bill and I are frequently asked if we support the use of public funds for private education. Bill's not waffling when he says he understands both sides of this issue.

We are products of public school. Bill's foundation was laid in a quonset hut in Delta Junction by a teacher who invested in him and became a lifelong friend. My early public school days started with the pledge and prayer.

Fearing much had changed, we enrolled our children in Christian school. Bill served on the school board and I served lunches, drove carpool, chaperoned and fundraised. Significant sacrifices of time and money were required.

When our daughter graduated 6th grade, a new ASD charter school opened. Due to finances, sports/extracurricular options, and an expanded academic menu, we decided to put all four children in the charter school. The oldest stayed three years, the others returned to the Christian school after one year. Eventually all moved to public school -- Turnagain, Romig and West High. All went to college and are gainfully employed in their various professions.

We found many excellent teachers in these schools. A remarkable third grade teacher at the Christian school made learning fun. A charter school teacher/mentor recognized potential in our daughter and opened doors for success. Another multi-degreed daughter found her most challenging, inspiring teacher whom she deemed "world class" at West. Their Spanish teacher accompanied them annually on Mexico mission trips where she interpreted and shared her faith around the campfire.

None of the schools were perfect; each had challenges with teachers, students, facilities and funding. We were imperfect parents raising imperfect kids trying to "train them up in the way they should go". As Christian parents we worried that the foundation of faith, prayer, service, citizenship, and respect we laid might crumble in a worldly environment.

While the schools changed, our parenting did not. We knew their friends and teachers, followed up on robo-attendance calls, did not miss conferences or make excuses for substandard reports. We waited up, took away keys, phones and privileges when necessary. TV channels were limited, internet was monitored. Our boys now laugh about the time Dad tossed their offending CD out the window. They didn't chuckle then. We often said "no" making us wildly unpopular with our children and their friends. Church, youth group, family devotions were not optional. We played together, had family dinner, counseled, consoled and were their biggest fans. But we were parents more than friends in those days. We are blessed now to be both.

We met most of our closest friends on this parenting journey. Most are church and Bible study friends who shared similar private/public school education experiences with their kids. Surprisingly, most are public school teachers, one is a principal and most are Republicans. Most have spent great sums of personal time and money on students and classrooms. They have clothed, nurtured and shopped for students and attended graduations, weddings and funerals. Many of our children's friends are also public school teachers. They teach with excellence and care about the young lives entrusted to them. Like Bill, they have reservations about the voucher system, particularly in light of deficit spending and massive teacher lay-offs.

These teachers believe the key to a child's success begins at home with parental involvement, discipline and role-modeling. Those things don't come with a monetary price tag, but are invaluable. A constitutional amendment to allow public funding of private schooling comes with a hefty price tag at a time when the state can ill afford it.

Bill and I strongly support private and public education but private school is not an option for everyone, even with vouchers. Much of the state only provides public education. Urban Alaskans have many choices that are not in jeopardy. This week a noted economist predicted Alaska will fall off a fiscal cliff in ten years. Now is not the time to sacrifice the funding and quality of the public option to expand the private option that will continue to serve a smaller, more privileged population of students.

Donna Walker is an attorney, businesswoman, mom and grandma who is married to independent candidate for governor, Bill Walker.

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