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Public schools keep community healthy

Port Arthur Independent School District Superintendent Mark Porterie gave a full-throated defense of public education Tuesday at a state of education luncheon.

He pointed out, correctly, that taking public funds and diverting them to charter or private schools could deplete the coffers of public schools while leaving those schools with the neediest kids who have some of the worst disciplinary issues and behavioral disorders. Porterie is not wrong. Two years ago, legislators proposed to do just that and there is talk of another attempt this year.

The luncheon was hosted by and attended by members of our industrial and business community and we hope they were listening. Porterie did not make the explicit connection between the health and wealth of industry and business and the success of the public school system, but the connection is there and we will make it.

One can look at dozens of communities across the South that were fractured by integration, torn apart when African Americans were allowed into public school systems and white parents retreated to the suburbs or opened private academies.

When white families fled to the suburbs, the tax base bottomed out and school systems lost not only their students but tax dollars. When private academies opened, the public school systems lost teachers and they lost the involvement of scores of parents and the community at large.

Over the past 30 or 40 years, these divided communities have languished, and the public school systems have struggled and, in turn, industry and businesses have suffered because it is hard to attract qualified employees to your industry if the public school system is low performing and it is hard to hire qualified local candidates if, again, the public school system is low performing. Overall, many of these communities are simply treading water—with the school district barely able to keep a state takeover at bay.

If state legislators allow parents to siphon off funds to send their children—typically the brighter, better behaved children—to private facilities then it will be only a matter of time until our public schools are left with the children whose parents do not care to apply them to private facilities and with the children who are not wanted at private facilities. It will only be a matter of time before our public schools are wrecked—and with them, our community.

We urge our business and industrial communities to stand with public education and urge our lawmakers next week at Golden Triangle Days to support fully funded public schools.