In my recent post expressing my opposition to charter schools, I had this to say about my own education in the public schools:
My parents are aware that sometimes values are taught in public school that run counter to their own values. My parents are aware that some values are totally missing from the public schools. Knowing such things, but also knowing that they bore the ultimate responsibility for our education, they supplemented my public school learning with other opportunities for learning.
Parents can (and ought) to supplement their children’s education in order to customize and tailor the learning experience to fit their children’s unique personalities, and align that education with a parent’s values and priorities. This follows from the assertion that parents (not the schools, not the government) are the ones who are ultimately responsible for a child’s education. The government provides schools, but parents should view them as merely a tool to help them fulfill their own responsibility for seeing that their children are educated. Parents should not feel tempted (yet they often are) to abdicate their responsibilities to educate their children and lay that burden, instead, upon the school.
Furthermore, for families who like charter schools because they have champagne taste and want a private school experience for their children, but they are only willing or able to set aside a beer budget to obtain it (with unvoted, confiscated tax dollars used as subsidies), supplemental learning opportunities make it possible to make the public school experience more like a private school experience without breaking the bank.
My own parents had limited time and limited funds, and they had 10 children. That’s the main reason they opted for public schools. However, public schools were only one item on the learning menu that they selected for us. How much nutrition can you get if your meal only consists of one dish? How much easier is it to optimize your nutrition if the main entree is a smaller portion of the meal and side dishes are added? So, think of public school as an entree that delivers on a few of the educational nutrition needs, but think about the learning activities that should be offered as side dishes to add nutrients that the entree is missing. If, after doing all this, your parental priorities and values aren’t reflected in what appears on your children’s educational dinner plate, don’t blame the schools. Go look in the mirror. Blame the person you see reflected in the mirror.
When I was in high school, I was involved in some extra-curricular activities, such as the cross-country team, the track team, the school play, the school choir, and a number of student clubs. I also had a lot of responsibility at home, as the oldest of the 10 kids that my parents had, and those household responsibilities were learning opportunities. Our family attended church together on Sundays. I had occasional access to the YMCA. I had ready access to the local library. My parents had an excellent selection of reference books at home. Our family had a very large yard for outdoor activities. I met each school-day morning, before school started, for Bible study with other students who attended both my school and my church. I also participated in 4-H and Boy Scouts. When I was younger, I had piano lessons (I discontinued the lessons by my own choice–I was never any good at piano, but it did teach me how to read music, so it wasn’t a total waste) and swimming lessons. As you can see, school was just an entree. There were many side dishes.
I am mindful that supplementing a child’s learning might be inconvenient. It’s hard to think of oneself as a parent when one is relegated to the role of taxi driver, shuttling this kid here for this activity by this time, and that kid there for that activity by that time, and then picking them up afterward. Wouldn’t it be so much better if a wide array of supplemental learning opportunities were available in one location? Wouldn’t it be better yet if that location were adjacent to the school? A parent wouldn’t have to feel like a lowly taxi driver for their children, if such were the case.
I propose that we add another facet to regional and urban planning. I call it the “School Enterprise Zone.” This is a concept I’ve been publicly touting since the days of my first state rep campaign back in 2002. When I was a contributor to Word of Mouth blog, before the launch of Buckeye RINO, I wrote a three-part piece about the concept, which you can find here, here, and here. It’s a land-use designation that Ohio communities could add to their options when they contemplate zoning ordinances. What it’s designed to do is make it easier for properties adjacent to schools to transition from residential/commercial/industrial property to property where supplemental learning opportunities are available for children. The key mechanisms to make it work are removing impediments to entrepreneurial providers of supplemental learning opportunities.
Let’s say I’m a martial arts instructor, or a piano teacher, or a youth minister of a church, or a fencing instructor, or an arts and crafts workshop leader, or a ballet teacher, or a Brownie Scout leader, or . . . somebody that has some programs designed to involve kids, and I buy a house within a School Enterprise Zone that surrounds the school. Let’s face it, I’m not going to become fabulously rich by offering after-school lessons to kids. I just want to at least scrape by, or at least supplement some other household income with teaching or coaching or mentoring kids on the side, or maybe I’m just a volunteer, like the Brownie Scout leader, and I don’t want a lot of government-imposed red tape, regulations, and fees to get in the way of providing programs for kids. A School Enterprise Zone could make the task less daunting.
Here are some examples of what a School Enterprise Zone designation could facilitate:
Example 1: Schools are often located in residential zones. Often, residentially zoned properties are prohibited from being sites of commercial activity. The School Enterprise Zone would relax those restrictions to allow commercial activities that provide programming for kids.
Example 2: Ohio laws don’t allow certain adult-oriented businesses, such as bars, within a certain distance of a school. Also, registered sex offenders are required to reside beyond a certain distance of a school. By creating a School Enterprise Zone, the boundaries of the “safety envelope” would be expanded.
Example 3: In converting a house within a School Enterprise Zone from strictly residential to a house where some of the space is reserved for private living space and some of the space is used for commercial activity related to programming for children, only a portion of the public space would be required to be handicap-accessible, not the entire facility, thus negating the need for expensive remodeling projects.
Example 4: Tax exemptions could be offered to qualifying entities within the School Enterprise Zone to help keep overhead expenses low so that these enterprises can keep afloat.
Example 5: Instead of parents being an after school taxi service, they may send a note to school signaling that their child is to be released to an agent of the after-school program when school is dismissed for the day. The parents then don’t have to pick up, drop off, and pick up again. They just have to pick up.
Example 6: If the School Board allows it, some of the school facilities may be rented out to after-school program providers. A ballet instructor may require more performance space than a residential setting may allow, and converting enough space for performance space on private property may be too costly. Instead, the instructor’s property within the school enterprise zone may contain just the business office for the ballet instructor while she rents performance space at the school.
Example 7: If school district budget cuts cause them to no longer offer some extracurricular activities, it may create an opportunity for a new program offering within the School Enterprise Zone. For example, if the junior high no longer has a football team, perhaps an enterprising would-be football coach would set up office in the coach’s home within the School Enterprise Zone and rent the school’s athletic field so that kids can continue to play football.
Example 8: Parents and kids could buy the supplies and equipment they need directly from the after-school program within the School Enterprise Zone instead of having to make a trip to the mall. I propose that such purchases within the School Enterprise Zone be made exempt from sales tax to make the after school activities less expensive for parents. But even without a tax exemption, there is added convenience when one can buy what supplies are needed on-site rather than having to taxi kids to far-flung shopping centers to procure the supplies.
Parents, of course, would foot the bill for whatever after-school programs they enroll their children in, and since funds may not be able to stretch far and since chidren are a precious commodity, the motivation behind creating School Enterprise Zones would be to conveniently locate an array of low-cost, low-risk supplemental learning opportunities.