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The most critical issue

There are a number of issues set before the voters come the Nov. 2 election — national, state and local. Many of them are repeats; they come up year after year in one form or another. Many ideas that pull campaigns along the trail are the same old horses, combed and curried to fit the mood of the day.

This year, much of the fuss is the typical mid-term turmoil at the national level and nearly all of it is colored with partisan and misleading rhetoric. Much of the material at all levels concerns taxation, money, deficits, debt.

Little of the campaign text concerns what we believe is the most important issue facing us.

Education. In particular K-12 public education.

True, there is a local measure on the ballot — 1B — but we do not see it as one that first, and essentially, concerns education. Few of us oppose education at any level. The model proposed by backers of the measure must be proven out and, if it functions well, it would be an asset, here or anywhere.

The question involves the open-ended allocation of taxpayer dollars collected with a mill levy to a non-governmental entity. Traditionally, taxpayer dollars are parceled out to non-profits as donations or as time-limited funding, with government remaining responsible for the expense. The mood concerning taxes has been dark of late and this issue clouds the matter all the more. Voters must decide if they want a mill levy with no expiration date given over to a non-governmental organization — one without the accountability of government, without a publicly elected board such as those in town and county government or special districts. Further, voters must consider whether, if successful, the measure opens the door to other non-profits to ask for tax dollars. Many of them do fine and critical work; who deserves it, who does not? If the matter does not trouble a voter, the nod is Yea. If the voter is concerned, it is Nay.

But in state and national races, K-12 education should be a prime consideration.

Public school students in the U.S. rank poorly when compared to students in the other top-30 industrialized nations of the world. Once, not long ago, our education system turned out skilled workers, innovators and entrepreneurs, capable of competing and winning on the world economic and cultural stages. Now the situation is distressing, at best.

Today, education is increasingly dominated from above, by legislation passed at the national and state levels. As a result, much of public education has narrowed to test and assessment-oriented activities, to “scripted learning:” programs in which teachers and students are reduced to rote players. Assessments are forced on districts from above, not generated from within. Our education systems are losing great teachers and find it increasingly hard to lure exceptional candidates into the ranks. Budgets are shrinking; constraints on creative, problem-solving educational models are tightening.

The system is not working. We are failing our young people. The only point on which they lead the youth of the world is self-confidence. And self-confidence without skills is hollow, and sad.

We need to ask candidates, and those in office, what they intend to do to alter the way we have done business in our public schools for the last decade or so. How will they restore local control of schools? How will they adequately fund public education, revamp teacher education programs and bring teacher salaries up to par with other vital professions? Will they take the yoke of standardized testing and funding threats from the neck of school systems?

It’s time to bring pressure to bear on political leaders to do something dramatic and effective to retool American education. Fast.

Karl Isberg