Column: On Politics
by Anthony Stasi
Nov 25, 2008 | 8842 views | 0 0 comments | 98 98 recommendations | email to a friend | print
They say in sports that sometimes the best trade you make is when you choose not to make a trade. The best thing Albert Baldeo did this year – and maybe for his political life - was stepping aside and not running in a primary for the State Senate seat in the 15th district.

On November 13, The Good Government Regular Democratic Club honored Baldeo.

"It shows that I am getting recognized by the mainstream of my party," Baldeo told me.

Sometimes awards like this are just ways of thanking people for their donations. But the Good Government Democratic Club, which is headed by Lew Simon of Rockaway, is a very active and credible organization. Baldeo is right to feel that this is a significant step into the arena that is Queens politics.

The Good Government Regular Democratic Club is not always “regular.” Lew Simon is an extremely active district leader that has been known to push the political envelope and challenge his own party. Simon ran against Joe Addabbo in a primary (with other candidates as well) in 2001 for the City Council seat in the 32nd District. It was in that primary fight with Simon that Addabbo began to push a little harder, and that energized his political success. So it is no great shock that Simon's club saw Baldeo's activism as something to be applauded.

Are You Pro-Choice (When It Comes to Education)

As Catholic schools close their doors due to a lack of funding, public schools get crowded. Watch any debate on public education, and two issues stand out: a strong contract for educators and overcrowded schools.

Teacher unions are quite powerful and they can influence policy. Unions have long opposed any possibility of school vouchers as a means of opening up new opportunities for children and their parents. The beneficiaries of a voucher program would not be the wealthy; they can already afford private education. The good student, trapped in a bad school needs an education now. He or she does not have the time to wait for a school to re-tool itself.

The idea of school vouchers, where parents would get to choose a school of their choice (if they chose to opt out of public education), is not a perfect solution. Some see this as a violation of church and state concerns. They feel that this is public money that can fund private institutions. There is also the risk that if vouchers work, the already overburdened public school system would drink a tall glass of humiliation.

I graduated from a small Catholic high school, where I was "zoned" for a very poorly performing public school. An odd kid, I honestly thought I needed more structure. So I was happy to go to private school. I made friends with which I still keep in touch. I went on to go to college and graduate school. There is no guarantee that any particular education will breed success. But those of us that graduated Monsignor McClancy High School in 1989 became good citizens.

Not all were Catholics. Not all were very smart. None of us were wealthy. But the work and the attention to basic values served these (still young) men well. I wish other students in failing schools could benefit from what I was lucky enough to have. I think we can do this without hurting public school teachers.

Maybe vouchers are too controversial and polarizing politically to ever get the traction needed. After all, the politicians in the neighborhoods that need this the most are usually in the party that opposes this most. But perhaps a tax credit plan, where parents could get a credit back on the money they are already paying, would make choice possible.

Would the tax credit plan hurt funding that is slated for public schools? Well, public schools spend an average of $8,000 per child. Private schools do this with almost half of that amount, and the results are far better. If a family received $500 in return for not using the public system, they would be saving the public school the cost of educating that child.

Many public schools in New York City are the best in the country. Bronx Science, Stuyvesant High School, Bayside High School - the list goes on. This is great, and it means that there will not be a mass exodus of students leaving the public system. It would also help the private schools, which are in demand, but – due to economic reasons – have many empty seats.

Some students cannot learn in a large, factory-like school because they are intimidated. We have these great private schools that can take the burden off of the public system; we owe it to kids to find a solution.

In a time when even Barack Obama is talking about utilizing faith-based programs (and sending his kids to private school), why would education be any different? There is no more important program than one that educates. After all – the new president has made it a point to say that all Americans should have access to the same health care as their congress and president. Why would access to education be any different?

This may upset career educators, and I hope it doesn't. I have been a teacher as well. The focus right now needs to be on the students, and the ability of the parents to play a more active role in the process. School choice should be a part of that process.

I'm A Luddite

I confess to being to being slow to technology. I don't write my column on a typewriter, like the great Joe Cullina did before me, but I promise to get my blog page on the Queens Ledger/Brooklyn Star website up to date. I know there are people that are waiting to tell me how clueless I am, and I want to make it as easy as possible for them.

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