03/14/2014 05:49 EDT | Updated 05/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Don't Exclude Kids From Good Schools Because Their Parents Make Less Money Than You

This essay is addressed to those of you who are both parents and at the same time opponents of school vouchers. If you fall into this category, keep on reading.

I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that at least one of your children attended a school other than your neighbourhood public school at some point in his or her school career.

Perhaps your child went to an out-of-area public school because of a special program like French immersion or arts. Maybe he or she went to a private school or a charter school or a magnet school. Maybe you home-schooled or used distance education.

I further suggest that at least one of your children probably got tutoring at some point. Maybe you paid someone to help, or maybe you did it yourself at home.

And if none of these apply, I will guess that you paid a premium price for your home in the carefully-chosen catchment area of a public school with an excellent reputation.

If you recognize yourself in any of these categories, then I respectfully ask that you re-think your opposition to school vouchers. The point is that few lower-income people have the resources to work the system the way you did.

Most low-income parents can't buy expensive homes or afford private schools or tutors or access specialized public schools or home-school. Their children, for the most part, are stuck with their neighbourhood school. If that school doesn't meet their children's needs at some point, those needs just go unmet.

But if you have yourself taken advantage of school choice options but still oppose school vouchers for less fortunate parents, then you are in good company.

Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, for example, forced French language instruction on many other people's children but sent their own children to private English-language schools. Bob Rae, Dalton McGuinty, and Annie Kidder sent one or more of their children to special schools - yet all support policies that make it difficult or impossible for less affluent parents to do the same. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama sent their own children to an élite private school while opposing school vouchers for their low-income neighbours in Washington. Former Toronto Star columnist Michele Landsberg and her husband Steven Lewis sent two of their children to private schools while seeking to block this option for poor children.

In fact, Michele Landsberg was quoted in Maclean's as saying "It was against our principles to do it, but you don't sacrifice your kid to political principles".

So here's the thing. Michele Landsberg was lucky enough to have the option of not sacrificing her own children to her own political principles - yet she sought to force these very same principles onto other people's children.

As it happens, I suspect most lower-income people would be delighted to join Michele Landsberg in sacrificing "high-minded" principles when it comes to the well-being of their own children. The difference, of course, is that less fortunate parents don't have this option.

So if you are a well-educated middle-class parent who has taken advantage of the school choice options available to you, please think twice before you oppose the school vouchers designed to give less fortunate children an equal opportunity to get a good education.


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