School Choice is gaining momentum. Ironically, the credit for this trend probably goes to the teachers unions. By their unwavering assault on public schools and refusal to return to the classrooms, the unions are driving students out of those schools.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board says the Biden administration seems committed to indulging teachers unions that oppose charter and private schools. This is no surprise since First Lady, Jill Biden, is a member of the NEA, the nation’s largest teachers union. Even though newly appointed CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, recently said, “Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools”, the Biden administration has not called for teachers unions to return to the classrooms.
Republican legislatures in more than a dozen states are responding to parental frustration with school closures by introducing legislation to expand school choice. In Iowa, the Senate passed a bill to provide students assigned to low-performing public schools with education savings accounts (ESAs), which are similar to vouchers but can also be used for textbooks, tutoring and more. Parents can roll over unused funds to future years.
The Iowa legislation would also allow charter schools that are independent of local school districts; today the state has only two charter schools. The bill increases a tuition-and-textbook tax credit from a maximum of $250 to $1,000 per student and extends the credit to home schoolers. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds says, “If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us about education, it’s that our parents need choice. And it’s not just in-person versus virtual.”
In my home state of Florida, Republican state Senator Manny Diaz has introduced a bill to consolidate the state’s current scholarship programs into taxpayer-funded ESAs. Nearly 200,000 students currently participate in the state’s existing programs, only one of which uses ESAs. The ESAs would give parents more flexibility in how they use the money.
In the state of Arizona, a Republican state Senator is proposing to expand eligibility for the state’s ESAs, which are currently used by fewer than 10,000 students, to low-income students across the state. Republicans are also pushing to expand the aggregate cap for the states’ tax credit scholarship program to $20 million from $5 million over three years. In New Hampshire and Missouri, GOP legislators are also pushing ESA bills. Nebraska legislators are debating a new tax-credit scholarship program.
The impact of public-school closings due to the pandemic is decimating the rolls of public schools. WSJ says public schools in 33 states have lost 500,000 students since the 2019-2020 school year, according to a December Associated Press-Chalkbeat analysis. Many parents with the financial means have enrolled their children in private or parochial schools or formed “pods” with classmates taught by tutors. Some are home-schooling.
For those parents who cannot afford these options, school choice is needed. They already pay through their taxes for public schools that remain closed and remote learning is leaving their children far behind. This could leave their children with lifetime damaging consequences.
To be sure, this situation was predictable. Joe Biden made it clear in his campaign that he would be on the side of the teachers unions and he has kept his word. WSJ says, “The union boycott of in-school instruction during the pandemic has been a frustrating revelation for millions of parents. All the more so because too many politicians, including those in the Biden administration, are beholden to the unions. Republicans are smart to use this instructive moment to give students more alternatives to the unions school monopoly.”
Maybe Joe Biden will be the best thing to ever happen to the school choice movement.