It is a basic principle of common-sense economics: Competition fosters quality. Competition requires the prudent use of available resources. Competition is needed to improve the circumstances of our public schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Vouchers are needed to facilitate and engage this competition.

Gov. Gilmore is advocating the implementation of a school voucher system. Although many people assert that a voucher system will detract from the quality of our public schools, that argument does not hold water in light of the market-driven realities of today's economic culture.

Since the 1800s, our children have been subject to compulsory school attendance laws. Children, elementary age through 16, are required to attend school. Although initially the law required attendance at public schools only, the law has been relaxed over time and can now be satisfied by attendance at private, parochial or home schools.

As a single parent of five elementary-aged schoolchildren, I am very concerned about the quality of the education and the atmosphere at my local public school. I am concerned about the fact that recently I have been informed that teasing and taunting in the fifth grade has gotten severe because many children are trying to "solidify their social positions." When discussing the matter with my sixth-grader, I was informed that many sixth-graders engage in something called "creative name-calling" -- a term developed by the kids, I guess, to sugarcoat the reality of what they're doing. With all of this nonsense going on, how can the education be of quality?

There is likely no more difficult job than teaching in the public schools. The pay is not tremendous. The work is long. The responsibility is awesome. I do not question the caliber or quality of our teachers. They are dedicated. If they weren't, they wouldn't teach. I do, however, question the implementation of discipline, rules and fiscal management on the part of the school administration -- from the highest level. I have written and faxed to Daniel Domenech, superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, about my concerns. I have yet to receive a response.

The Fairfax County Public School system is often cited as one of the top 20 school districts in the country. The system has been challenged greatly by an increasing need for facilities. It is vitally important that this focus on buildings not overshadow the true purpose of public education. I've seen the school system's budget. It is substantial. I've seen individual school budgets. They, too, are substantial. Yet, my fourth-grader must pay a $1.55 "donation" to ride a public school bus one-quarter of a mile down the road to a field trip at a rock quarry.

It's not that $1.55 is a large sum of money. However, this type of request makes me wonder how the overall school budget is spent. How and when are county resources used? What budget deficiency requires that children pay to ride a big, yellow school bus one-quarter of a mile down the road for a curriculum-based field trip that is free? Again, it is a question of administration.

If schools had to compete to provide quality services at a reasonable price, perhaps by necessity, the administration of the public schools would become more fiscally responsible and thus more cost-effective. When I compared the tax dollars allocated per student in the public schools against the tuition assessed per student in local private schools, I found that the public schools consistently have more money per student, yet offer fewer services.

The appropriate, effective education of our children is vital to the future success of our localities, our state and our nation. The public school system cannot continue to receive, accept and utilize public resources without the challenge of viable competition. Without an impetus to produce the best-quality education at the best price possible, our public schools will not succeed in the long run. Our children deserve an education that will last a lifetime, not an education dictated solely by the fact that they have no choice regarding where they go to school.

-- Pam Cave