States are making school choice legislation a priority at a time when teachers’ unions blocked the safe reopening of schools for in-person learning and, backed by the Biden administration, have embraced Critical Race Theory indoctrination for K-12 students. “It is difficult to understate just how huge a year school choice has had in state legislatures across the nation,” Mike McShane, director of national research at EdChoice, noted at Forbes Monday.
School choice legislation has been included just within the last several weeks in the budgets of four states, a fact that is not surprising given its popularity among American parents and families.
A RealClear Opinion Research Poll published in April found 71 percent of voters support school choice, an outcome the American Federation for Children (AFC) says represents “the highest level of support ever recorded from major AFC national polling with a sample size above 800 voters.” When race and ethnicity were considered as factors, voters of all cultural backgrounds overwhelmingly supported school choice. According to the poll, 73 percent of whites back school choice, as do 66 percent of blacks, 68 percent of Hispanics, and 66 percent of Asians. The poll also found 65 percent support “parents having access to a portion of per-pupil funding to use for home, virtual, or private education if public schools don’t reopen full-time for in-person classes,” AFC noted.
“The need for education freedom is at an all-time high and it’s reaffirming to see many state policymakers stepping up and supporting school choice across the country,” said John Schilling, AFC president. He also observed 32 states “have introduced 36 bills to create or expand educational choice and we urge policymakers in these states to get these bills over the finish line on behalf of families and students.”
Teachers’ unions’ vehement opposition to safe in-classroom instruction has “done more to advance school choice in the past year than could have ever been imagined,” Corey DeAngelis, national director of research at AFC, wrote at National Review in February.
The National Conference of State Legislatures hosts an interactive guide to school choice laws that allows visitors to the site to learn about which education options are now available in their states. At the end of June, for example, Pennsylvania Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf signed his Republican legislature’s budget bill that boosted an education tax credit scholarship program with an additional $40 million.
As the Center Square reported, the plan Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers negotiated will allow the state’s educational improvement tax credit (EITC) program to provide an additional 13,000 scholarships for families choosing private education. Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee Chairman Scott Martin (R) had hoped for an even bigger boost for school choice, but noted the EITC increase for the current budget was “one of the largest in the history of the program.”
“The allocation, Martin said, “shows that the commonwealth is placing the focus on children, not on any one educational model.”
“EITC is important because as I have said many times, we need an education system that allows parents to put their children in the kind of environment that suits their needs and helps boost student achievement,” he said.
West Virginia saw an interesting twist of events this year, as the Federalist noted. While in March 2018, a week-long teachers’ strike in the state helped launch the radical #RedforEd movement after it won the union a five percent raise, in March of 2021, West Virginia became the state to have advanced the most expansive education savings account (ESA) program in the nation. Gov. Jim Justice (R) signed a bill that created the Hope Scholarship Program, to become effective July 1, 2022. The program allows families who withdraw their children from public schools to receive about $4,600 per student, per year for private and homeschooling expenses, reported the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Families with very young children may also receive the funds even if they never intend to have their children register for public schools. “Republican supermajorities passed this legislation (House Bill 2013) without a single Democrat vote,” noted the Gazette-Mail.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) signed a budget bill into law two weeks ago that authorizes the state to establish education freedom accounts to provide funding for families who choose private, parochial, and charter schools, as well as homeschooling, over public schools. The Sununu administration expects the new law to save the state between $360 to $393 million over the next decade, the Center Square reported, noting that data released by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy in March found that allowing funding to follow the children to the education setting of choice would cost 25 percent less than for traditional public schools alone.
The National Educators Association of New Hampshire is mulling a lawsuit to block the school choice law.
“Taking funds away from certified, qualified, and financially transparent public schools and teachers to hand them over to unaccountable and untraceable private schools not only make our jobs harder, it is also fiscally irresponsible,” the organization’s president Megan Tuttle said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the union also backs teaching the concepts of Critical Race Theory, which it refers to as “honest history,” and has condemned another provision of the budget law that bans the teaching of “inherent racism.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) also signed into law school choice legislation provisions in the state’s budget bill that raised the value of scholarship programs to $5,500 per student in grades K-8 and $7,500 per high school student. Additional increases were provided to scholarship programs based on income and to those focused on special needs students.
McShane noted DeWine also signed into law “a new tax-credit scholarship program open to all students in the state:”
Individuals who donate to organizations that grant scholarships to K-12 students can get a 100 percent credit against their state tax liability up to $750 per person. Legislators also created a new microgrant program for low-income families (who will receive $500 to use for educational expenses) a $250 personal-use tax credit for families to offset homeschooling expenses, and a $500 to $1,000 personal-use tax credit for private school families to help recoup some of their costs. Taken together, this makes Ohio home to one of the most diverse sets of school choice policies in the nation.
In a summary of the bounty of school choice legislation that has passed in the states this year, McShane added:
In total that means that three states (Indiana, New Hampshire, and West Virginia) have created new education savings account programs this year. Two states (Kentucky and Missouri) created new tax credit-funded education savings account programs, the first of their kind in the nation. Two states (Arkansas and Ohio) created new tax-credit scholarship programs. One state (Florida) expanded its ESA program. Six states (Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, and Ohio) expanded their voucher programs, and 10 states (Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota) expanded their tax-credit scholarship programs.
“It was finally made clear to a critical mass of legislators that families need options, and the one-size-fits-all nature of the contemporary public education system is not fit for purpose in an uncertain and changing world,” McShane observed. “Funding a more diverse and decentralized system means creating a more resilient system and a system better tuned to the needs of the people it serves.”
Does School Choice Work?
The pandemic forced all 50 states to reevaluate education policy in the coming years. Even now, we are starting to see the first shifts from the necessarily frantic “emergency mode” to a more long-term rethinking of policy for the new reality.
Let’s face it: those parents who in the past felt their children should not be forced into public school systems still pay in taxes the same amounts as do those parents who choose public schools. Every one of the 50 states has a public education budget. One could extrapolate from those numbers the per-student cost of one year for each child in each state. Doesn’t it seem sensible for each state to structure a program for ALL students’ education that allows parents to choose the education program that is best for their children?
Give Parents the ability to choose for their children!
“If we do that, the public school system will collapse!” That’s the cry from the teacher’s unions and bureaucratic educators. Let’s face it: if parents are given the option to choose the best school for their kids, EVERY school should fight to get each student and the education tax dollars allocated to teach each child. How would that be structured? Simple:
- The parents choose the school they feel best could serve their child;
- They meet with that school and enter the application process;
- Once a final decision is made by both the parents and schools, that student will be enrolled, “IF” there is sufficient space;
- School choice will, therefore, operate in what is really a capitalistic structure: based totally on “supply and demand;”
- What determines which schools get which students? CHOICE! That means that the school with the best teachers, best programs, best environment, and the best record of success with previous students will be the ones parents and students flock to!
- Yes, there may be waiting lists of students who want specific schools. How will that work? Other schools will need to fight for those students by finding what parents think is best for their children, implement it there, and prove THEY are willing to stop forcing kids into a particular model but refine their operations to fit the parent’s model for the education of their child. Free Market competition at its best!
- In that model, many public schools will be chosen. If not, it certainly will be because of unwillingness to provide for kids and convince those parents “their” school is best for those kids.
Isn’t that how it should work rather than allowing the Teacher’s Union bureaucracy to take total control of every aspect of the process of educating our children? Shouldn’t parents decide?
The best schools will thrive. The schools that do not offer good programs will be required to improve their quality of education to attract more and better students. They will have to do that to survive: marketplace competition.
Tax dollars follow the children who each have equal opportunity to get the best education parents and children decide.