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Letter to the Editor: Government Needs to Fund, Not Fix, Education

My time on the campaign trail this spring has given me an opportunity to listen to people’s concerns. The people I have talked to believe in opportunity and enterprise, and they are worried that a damaged educational system is putting these core American values in jeopardy. We need to refocus on the foundation of our American prosperity: our uniquely diverse, creative and hardworking American population.

Our education system is renowned for teaching students to think creatively and critically. Questioning is a value we Americans hold dear, and our education system reflects that value. Much has been made in recent years of our educational failures, and they are real, but the system isn’t broken. It is woefully underfunded and crippled by top-down regulations. Our communities need the resources and the control so that decisions can be made locally, tailored to local challenges and local opportunities.

As a nation, we need to invest in education from preschool through graduate school. Government doesn’t need to fix education; it needs to fund education. The fix will come from the opportunity our students have to choose their own path, with the doors open to all who are able and willing to apply themselves.

We need to recognize that education trends follow job trends, which follow industry trends. After World War II, the electronics industry boomed, and colleges graduated record numbers of engineers; in the 1970s, the computer industry took off, jobs in this sector were plentiful and students enrolled in computer-related courses in record numbers. Today, with the baby-boomers aging, health care is in the spotlight. Supply and demand works for education if we are willing to trust in local control.

People are worried because, as funding for education has declined, we have seen the elimination of critical elements of the system. Vocational programs, once present in all middle and high schools, have largely disappeared. Students are practiced in test taking but often graduate from high school without a single hands-on lab experience. We are depriving our students, especially our less traditional students, of the opportunity to experience what it feels like to learn, and then apply, an actual skill. People know that this is not the way to provide our small-business-driven economy with the creative and energetic work force it needs to thrive.

Education is the critical link between opportunity and enterprise. Americans are innovators. They will answer the challenges, identify the opportunities and forge the enterprises. Government has a role, accountability is essential, but regulations don’t solve problems or move the nation forward.

The American people have to do that, and they will do that. Government needs to provide the tools, clear the path and get out of the way.

Marie Panec
Oak Park Unified School District Board of Education

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