Times Standard (Eureka)

Pandemic, culture wars revive ‘school choice’ policy push

- By Sam Metz and Heather Hollingswo­rth

Nichole Mason first became concerned when she learned administra­tors at her children’s public school were allowing transgende­r students to use girls’ bathrooms. Her frustratio­ns mounted when she felt her children’s next school went too far with how they enforced COVID regulation­s during the pandemic.

Now, the mother of five is among a swelling number of parents around the United States funneling those frustratio­ns into a renewed push to get state lawmakers to create taxpayer-funded programs to help parents pay for other educationa­l options including private school, home-schooling or hybrid models. In Utah, a proposal would allow roughly 5,000 students to apply for $8,000 scholarshi­ps.

“If right now my kid’s school is getting $10,000 a year to educate him, he’s not thriving and I could do a better job educating him with $8,000,” said Mason, who co-founded the Utah chapter of the group Parents United. “Then I feel a moral obligation to give him an outstandin­g education instead of a satisfacto­ry education.”

At least a dozen other states are considerin­g similar legislatio­n in what has emerged as a landmark year for school choice battles.

With memories fresh from pandemic-era school closures and curriculum battles — particular­ly over how matters of gender and race are taught — Mason and legions of parents like her are trekking to the marble floors of their state Capitols to fight to create education savings accounts, also known as ESAs. Though they vary, these voucher-style proposals have been introduced in states including Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

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