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Vouchers have a role in solving school problems

Re: Capitol offenses: Educational folly, editorial, April 5.

In your criticism of the voucher as a method of public school reform, you indicated that many children with educational problems come from struggling homes where the children may be malnourished and suffer effects of their mothers' drug use. Children with these problems probably represent no more than 2 to 3 percent of children from the lower socioeconomic strata. More than 40 percent of children from this group drop out of school. The "blame-it-on-the-parents" argument is an old one and a tired one.

You state that it is incorrect to assume that all private schools are better than all public schools. You are correct, but most private schools are better than most public schools.

You complain that schools accepting public money do not adhere to educational standards imposed on the public schools. What standards? Private schools produce better academic results and have fewer behavioral problems. You may be referring to categorical imperatives which truly burden public schools. Our hard-working, often gifted and sometimes heroic public school teachers function under the burden of complex agendas forced on them from many quarters.

These imperatives include environmental education, cultural awareness, drug education, driver education, sex education, gang intervention, immigration aid and prevention of tobacco use. In California, spending on state categoricals grew from 25 percent of all spending on public schools in 1981-1982 to almost 40 percent in 1996-1997.

You conclude that there is no "simple fix" for the lack of educational readiness. The voucher is not a simple fix, but one part of a complex myriad of solutions which include charter schools and reform within public schools.

If you really believe that vouchers can in no way help children despite the results of the programs in Milwaukee and Cleveland, you have every right to express your opinion. But if your opinion is influenced by the teachers' unions and your own set of categorical imperatives, then you may want to question your sincerity as well as that of House Speaker Daniel Webster.

Mack R. Hicks, Ph.D., Pinellas Park

Schools need private competition

There are a score of solid reasons why a growing number of parents want to take their children out of public schools and enroll them in safer, more efficient private schools. Issues such as providing their children a better education, busing and violence in public schools are clearly at the top of the list. Many politicians, bureaucrats and school administrators have already learned that public schools often do not consider their child's best interests and have long ago enrolled their kids in private ones.

Problem is, while many of the aforementioned groups live relatively opulent lifestyles funded by taxpayers, they don't want the children of less-affluent parents to have an equal opportunity for the best educational experience possible. A meager tax voucher that would assist average parents in affording their children a relatively safe and competent private education is often assailed by opponents as an attempt to undermine the sanctity of the public school system, as if that would necessarily be a bad thing.

In Florida's failing public school systems, students face huge obstacles to learning which were virtually non-existent for their parents and grandparents 30 years ago. Today, we routinely read about young female students being raped in school bathrooms, students being shot to death in hallways and classrooms, and young bodies being carved and scarred by flashing switchblades on school grounds turned battlefields.

Meanwhile, public school administrators, who receive salaries and perks comparable to those of governors, form political alliances with anti-school-choice politicians, all bent on shaping public policies that detract from the educational choices available to the children of Florida.

Incredibly, it is 1998 and children are still forced to walk through dangerous predawn traffic to accommodate the whims of busing advocates. Arrogant public school administrators continue to draw up new regulations that force these children to be bused far away from their parents and communities. This way, your children pay the price for adult tendencies to segregate according to race, not these cowards with self-serving political motivations.

The only system available to check the awesome, oppressive power of huge, bloated public school bureaucracies is to force them to compete with their safer, more cost-effective private counterparts. Top-heavy public school administrations across the state must be trimmed and pared, and school violence has to be replaced by a reasonably safe atmosphere for learning. Most private schools consistently uphold these standards. Does your child deserve any less?

Larry Clifton, Land O'Lakes

No public money for private schools

Re: Voucher bill ignores the Constitution, April 21, and Children's issues under House arrest, April 9.

Thank you, Martin Dyckman, for your columns denouncing legislation that would allow public tax dollars to be diverted from the public school system to private schools. This legislation is inappropriate in a number of ways and is also a blatant violation of the provisions of the Constitution of the state of Florida. It is a poor substitute for instituting effective mechanisms to improve our public school system.

As a parent of two children in the public schools, an active school volunteer and a PTA member for a number of years, my experience lends no support for voucher proposals of any kind. Yet there is proof that parents support the public education system. Eighty-seven percent of Florida's children attend public schools. Educators, parents and taxpayers can agree on ways to improve them. It is time our legislators put aside their personal agendas and offer their support for the improvements and programs that we know can make quality education available to every child in this state.

The House has failed to do this. We must now look to the Florida Senate and to Gov. Chiles to ensure that our children, our public education system and our constitutional guarantees are protected.

Mary E. White, Clearwater

The flag and other rights

Re: Protecting flags, assaulting freedom, by Stan Tiner, April 18.

Apparently Stan Tiner is more interested in his "right to free speech" as an editor than in the rights of Americans and his fellow Marines who fought and died for the flag that represents our country and the freedom for which they fought!

Arthur Watson, Madeira Beach

What is their message?

Re: Protecting flags, assaulting freedom.

What are they saying when they burn the flag of the United States of America?

They burn the government of the people and the way of life in this country which is the best in the world.

They burn the idea that many people divided into states and ethnic and religious groups can cooperate and work together as one.

They burn the idea of justice for all.

They burn the idea of freedom of the people.

They burn the idea of freedom to burn the flag.

Richard Koslow, Gulfport

We should take our daughters to work

I took offense at Robyn Blumner's April 19 column "Send the girls to school" day.

My daughter was one of "those girls" spending last Thursday "tailing momaround the office" and "malinger(ing) at a parent's workplace." Hopefully, what my daughter got out of this day is a sense of pride in seeing me, her mom, using my skills and knowledge to attain the goals set by myself and the company I work for.

And as for Blumner, assuming my daughter would "see no women in powerful positions," how do I explain my manager, a female, and my company's executive vice president, also female, to my daughter?

Is Blumner afraid girls will form their own opinions and realize the importance of working women in such positions, or even more afraid that these girls, future workers of tomorrow, will find women enjoying their positions of "truck drivers and maids" while trying their best to produce their best work possible?

Blumner blatantly degrades and insults every woman who (in her view) is not high up the corporate ladder and, at the same time, demeans the pure value of work done by women.

I do agree that a school education is important to girls, but Blumner insinuates (big word for a working woman to use, isn't it? I'm one of those "20 percent of parents with college sheepskins") that all it takes for a girl to excel in the workplace is her level of education, and to excel is to be "studying in those math and hard science courses so they will be able to compete with men"

Why should women be made to feel they have to compete with anyone to succeed?

Thankfully, my female manager did not view last Thursday as a day staffers' children will be "traipsing around an office" with "co-workers trying to work around them." Instead she was involving the children in assisting her staff during our busy day, with my co-workers excitedly showing off their work talents.

Next time you want to degrade the work of millions of women, Ms. Blumner, I suggest you take a personal poll before writing with such bias.

Lynn York, Clearwater

Elaine's label says something

Re: Monumental nothingness, April 26.

While discussing others' views on the ways in which Seinfeld reflects contemporary society, Eric Deggans himself inadvertently provides a much more telling insight into current social mores. Providing brief depictions of the main characters, Deggans describes the female lead, Elaine Benes, as "promiscuous." In fact, Elaine had no more male companions than Jerry had female ones, and she certainly seemed to like them better than George liked his dates.

So why is Elaine labeled promiscuous? And why is her sexuality the quintessence of her character and not that of the others?

I always enjoyed Seinfeld, maybe because I never mistook it for real life. Perhaps we'd be better off spending more time examining our own failings and less getting exercised about the foibles of four fictional characters.

Marcie Finkelstein, Tampa

Be careful with those comparisons

Re: Leave the turnpike's name alone, editorial, April 22.

Your editorial suggested that renaming the Florida Turnpike after Ronald Reagan makes about as much sense as renaming the University of Florida the Ronald Reagan University of Florida.

Please, please, please don't ever write anything like that again.

Our state legislators are not the brightest people on earth. Worse, yet, they don't have well developed senses of humor. I suspect that more than one of them will read your editorial and think renaming UF is a good idea.

Gerald M. Taylor, Tampa

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