School Choice Momentum Grows


School choice continues to gain momentum. The evidence of this is everywhere. It may be the most influential issue that turns Democratic parents into Republican voters.

This effect was dramatically seen in the 2018 gubernatorial election in Florida. White Republican Governor Ron DeSantis was campaigning for his first term as governor against black Democratic former Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum. It was a close race that came down to a recount. Gillum finally conceded the race after a recount showed DeSantis was still ahead by about 30,000 votes. Here’s how I described it in a November, 2018 post:

“Ironically, DeSantis can thank black women for his victory. Yes, there is a solid argument that black women rejected the black candidate Gillum in favor of – their children. According to CNN exit polling of 3,108 voters, of the roughly 650,000 black women who voted in Florida, 18% or about 117,000 chose DeSantis. This exceeded their support for GOP U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott (9%). In other words, they selected the Republican gubernatorial candidate but not the Republican senatorial candidate.

William Mattox, director of the Marshall Center for Educational Options at the James Madison Institute, writes in The Wall Street Journal that the reason is school choice. More than 100,000 low-income students in Florida participate in the Step Up For Students program, which grants tax-credit funded scholarships to attend private schools. Even more students are currently enrolled in the state’s 650 charter schools. Most Step Up students are minorities whose mothers are registered Democrats. Yet these “school choice moms” split their votes when it comes to protecting their ability to choose where their child goes to school.”

School choice is gaining momentum because parents of both political parties care about the education of their children. School choice is also gaining ground because of the teachers unions. At the height of the Covid pandemic, the teachers unions made it clear they were more concerned about the teachers than they were about the students. This was discussed, in a 2021 post:

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.

School choice made a difference in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race, it made a difference in the response to the Covid pandemic, and it continues to have a political impact. The latest evidence of this is the Virginia gubernatorial race of last year. Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated former Governor Terry McAuliffe in this trending-blue state, largely on the issues of educational curriculum and school choice. Parents made it clear they didn’t support the teaching of radical views like critical race theory (CRT) in their schools and they were concerned for the future education of their children. Youngkin campaigned on a platform that promised to rid the schools of CRT teaching and to expand school choice. Now he is delivering on those promises.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board says, “Parents haven’t let up in their push for greater school choice, and Virginia reflects the growing momentum. The state’s latest budget includes funding for new flexible public schools meant to meet the demand for alternatives.”

Virginia Governor Youngkin cited “record investments in education” while signing the two-year budget last month. The centerpiece is $100 million to pen new “lab schools.” These are publicly funded K-12 schools founded by public universities, rather than school districts. That puts them outside the state’s collective-bargaining agreement, meaning each lab school’s administrators control hiring and pay. Virginia Republicans hope that lab schools will replicate the success of charter, which face an unusual barrier in the state. The Virginia constitution requires each new charter to gain sign-off from the local school board, most of which are politically aligned with the unions. The fast-growing state had a mere seven charter schools in 2021, serving about 1,300 students out of more than 1.2 million.

WSJ says, “Laying the foundation for non-union schools is in keeping with Mr. Youngkin’s campaign promise to grant more options and control to parents. Debates over Covid restrictions and critical race theory helped push education to the forefront of last year’s gubernatorial election, with dissatisfied parents driving an unexpected GOP vote surge.” 

Education is color-blind. Education is politically neutral. Parents of all colors and all political affiliations want their children to get a good education because they understand that education is the key to a successful future for their children. The party that understands the importance of education will continue to prosper in the future.

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