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As a public school teacher, I see firsthand the condition of our schools in Lancaster County. I have the privilege of teaching in the same school that I attended as a child.
Unfortunately, my parents were not able to attend school past the eighth grade. They worked for Springs to pay the bills and they taught me the value of hard work. They were not able to help me with my school work or guide me on a path to college because they had no idea how to help me or whom to ask.
Like Mandy Powers Norrell, I am a first-generation college student. And like Mandy, the education and assistance I received in Lancaster County public schools equipped me to be successful. I was the first and only person in my immediate family to receive a college degree. I now have three, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. None of this would have been possible if not for the excellent education I received in Lancaster County public schools.
Now I teach here and I see the children who pass through my doors. Many of their parents are unemployed or work two jobs just to pay the bills. They can’t afford school supplies, so I buy them instead. Each year for the start of school, my birthday and Christmas, my family and friends give me school supplies to give my students, including warm coats and clothing. I have given students money to pay for their reduced-price lunches, and I’m not the only one. Many teachers at my school keep snacks in their desks to give kids in the morning, because no one should be expected to learn while his or her stomach is growling.
And I am proud to say that I am now a part of that fantastic group of educators in Lancaster County who go into our schools everyday not only to teach facts, but to change lives. Teachers are not simply givers of knowledge; they are the caretakers of our broken society. They are some of the few who wake up each morning with a new hope and never give up.
I cringe every time I hear the lie that vouchers or tax credits will fix our public schools. Vouchers will help people pay for private school tuition using tax dollars that are taken from our public schools. I ask you, who do you think will be using these vouchers? First, it will people who already are able to afford tuition at a private school, so they will be saving money by using our tax dollars. Second, it will be people who can afford the portion of the tuition that is not paid by vouchers and who can afford to drive their children to a private school or buy a car for their children to be able to drive themselves. Do you know who will not be using these vouchers? The parents who are unemployed, working long hours to make overtime or working two or more jobs to make ends meet. The parents who can’t take time off work to drive their children to a private school, or can’t afford the gas to do so, and those who can’t afford to buy cars for their children to drive to these private schools.
My parents would have never been able to send me to a private school, even if they did have vouchers. I walked to school and ate free lunch. I didn’t have a car until I was 19 years old. Vouchers are a bad idea. They won’t fix anything. What vouchers will do is allow for socioeconomic segregation in our communities. All the wealthy children will be in well-funded private schools and the lower income children will be in poorly funded public schools. After so many of our friends and neighbors fought so hard to end racial segregation, why would we vote for someone who supports socioeconomic segregation?
Do not believe the lie that vouchers will fix our public schools. My success would have never been possible if it wasn’t for public schools. It scares me to think of where I would be now if a voucher system would have been in place when I was a student.
If you want to help teachers and school leaders fix public education, then support programs that benefit children of all socioeconomic levels. For example, pre-K programs that assist struggling learners and enrich gifted ones and after-school programs that do the same.
Volunteer at your neighborhood school, or one near your job to read to children, tutor them or become a mentor. But most of all, stand up on Nov. 4 and vote. Be a voice for those children who are not economically able to use private school vouchers.
I am a lifelong Republican, but I refuse to vote for any candidate who supports using tax dollars for private school vouchers. This November I will cross party lines and vote for a Democrat for S.C. Senate. Mandy Powers Norrell is not only against vouchers, but she is willing to fight for our community and our public schools.
So, if you are a public school educator, administrator, office worker, bus driver, custodian or maintenance worker, or if you are a parent or grandparent or simply someone who is willing to be a voice for our children, I urge you to stand together in support of public education on Nov. 4 and to vote for Mandy Powers Norrell for S.C. Senate.
Holly Lyver is a Lancaster County resident and teacher who received the Lancaster County School District’s 2007 Celebrate Great Teaching Award for teachers.