At least the pandemic had a silver lining. It taught parents that there are better alternatives to government schools.
When COVID hit, bureaucrats in control were eager to close schools. Many closed them if just one child tested positive, even though COVID is little threat to kids.
Union teachers seemed eager to be paid not to work. Los Angeles teachers secured a contract that said they will “not be required to teach classes using live video conferencing” and won’t be required to “provide instruction more than four hours a day.” Nice work if you can get it.
More than a million parents chose to leave the government system. They spent their own money to educate their children in private and religious schools.
Others tried home schooling. Many had been skeptical but now discovered that their kids learned more, and their family life was enriched by teaching at home. The education establishment sneers at home schooling, but home-schooled students, even though they are more likely to be poor, score 30% higher on SAT tests. They also do better in college, and they are less likely to drink or do drugs.
Finally, even within government systems, school choice grew.
Kansas and Missouri expanded access to charter schools. Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Iowa, South Dakota, Utah and Tennessee expanded Education Savings Accounts, which help parents try private schools.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed what his office called “the most expansive school choice legislation in the nation.” It gives money to families that they can spend on private school, home schooling, micro schools, tutoring or any other educational service that meets the needs of kids. Any kid can qualify. The state simply gives families what they would have spent in the public school (up to $7,000 per child). That’s much more generous and simpler than other states’ choice plans.
In San Francisco, voters recalled three school-board members. Apparently voters did not like that they kept public schools closed and, instead of figuring out how to reopen, obsessed over renaming schools called Washington or Lincoln.
In Virginia, voters rejected Gov. Terry McAuliffe after he said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” His opponent, Glenn Youngkin said, “Parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.” Youngkin won.
“For far too long in K-12 education, the only special interest group has been the teachers unions,” wrote the Reason Foundation’s Corey DeAngelis in The Wall Street Journal. “Now, there’s a new interest group — parents. They are never going to unsee what they saw in 2020 and 2021, and they’re going to fight to make sure they never feel powerless when it comes to their children’s education again.”
Of course, union leaders hate the choice movement. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten calls it racist. “The real ‘pioneers’ of private school choice were the white politicians who resisted school integration,” she wrote. Today’s choice programs are “polite cousins of segregation.”
But that’s nonsense.
“Don’t tell me school choice is racist!” says Denisha Merriweather, founder of the new group Black Minds Matter. Choice opponents “are implying that parents, especially lower-income, Black parents, should stay trapped in public schools that have failed their children for decades,” she notes. “We need a new system . . . empowered by parents.”
School choice increases diversity, adds Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center’s Center for Education. “Modern-day school vouchers lead to more ethnic and racial integration in the schools, not less.”
One poll showed that 74% of African Americans and 71% of Latinos support school choice.
Choice opponents are mostly unions, establishment Democrats and frightened suburban Republicans.
But now lots of innovation has begun. One example: STOP Foundation 4 Education gives awards to educational innovators. Its $10 million will go to nonprofits, entrepreneurs and community organizations that provide more educational options. Recipients include Rock by Rock, an education-software company, and STEMuli, a game-based learning company.
School choice is good for everybody but unions, socialist bureaucrats and the tired education establishment.
It’s one good thing accidentally created by the pandemic.