Bust Up This Bad Monopoly
The behavior of the teachers’ unions and public-school bureaucracies in much of the country has been a disgrace. They have repeatedly and unnecessarily kept kids out of the classroom. Their unconscionable actions will, over time, lead to radical changes in how American children are educated. The traditional public-school system will go the way of landline telephones, fax machines and typewriters.
A year ago it was clear that there was no science-based reason not to resume in-classroom teaching, as kids are highly unlikely to get Covid-19 or to pass it on. Experience in Europe, Japan and elsewhere demonstrated that schools—by taking proper precautions—could safely reopen.
The damage done by keeping children at home, in terms of lost learning, depression and the hit to family earnings because of parents having to stay at home to look after their kids, vastly exceeded any harm done by Covid-19. Yet union bosses kept saying no to in-class teaching, shaking down politicians for more concessions and more money.
Shamefully, President Biden and many local politicians capitulated. Clearly, they really don’t give a hoot about the kids.
This appalling behavior will have profound repercussions in both the short and long term.
Parents by the millions are shocked and coming to the sad conclusion that the current public-school system—in all too many cases—has abandoned them and their offspring. Videos of teachers badmouthing parents or going on vacations while children were kept at home reinforced this perception of astonishing selfishness and indifference.
Moreover, the realization is growing that many schools, pre-Covid, were not doing a good job of educating students, as test scores sadly demonstrated. Too often the response has been to dumb down the curriculum or simply to advance kids to the next grade, even when they’re not qualified.
This grim reality is leading to growing support for more genuine school choice. More than 30 states are cre
ating or expanding educational choice programs. Florida just enlarged its school-voucher program. Many states are employing scholarship programs financed via state income-tax credits to enable parents to escape the government’s public-education monopoly. Oklahoma, for example, just overcame fierce union opposition and substantially expanded its private-school scholarship program, and reformers there will be pushing a massive expansion next year.
A more far-reaching initiative is to have school funds follow the child instead of being restricted to a specific school, no matter how bad it is. The tool for this would be substantive K-12 Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). These taxpayer-funded accounts would allow eligible parents to use the money not only to send their child to a private school but also to pay for tutoring, online courses and textbooks. Dollars would follow the child, not the school. In other words, if you send a child to a nonpublic school, the per-student cost the government pays would be transferred from the public school to the alternative one.
West Virginia has enacted the most extensive ESA program in the country—more than 90% of students there will be eligible when the program takes effect in July 2022, thereby busting the government’s school monopoly in that state. And Kentucky legislators overrode their governor’s veto of an ambitious ESA project. Clearly, the ESA movement is picking up steam.
There are also privately financed programs, such as the Children’s Scholarship Fund, for kids from lowerincome households.
That most children’s educational opportunities should be determined by the Zip code in which they live is an American scandal.
It won’t happen overnight, but the unions’ shortsighted, harmful actions will lead to profound change—and America’s kids will be the winners.