As we celebrate National School Choice Week, some data, news and questions about the private option.
Though the usual suspects are resolute as ever, school choice is advancing. There are now 469,000 students enrolled in 63 different private school choice programs in 29 states and Washington, D.C. Between 2013 and 2015, enrollment at private schools increased 7 percent in the U.S., according the National Center for Education Statistics.
Illinois is the most recent admission to the parental choice club. The Prairie State adopted a tax credit scholarship program earlier this month, whereby donors can give a tax credit, up to a maximum of $1.3 million, to a scholarship granting organization. That contribution is then used to defray the cost of a private school education for kids who are from low-income families. The donor in turn receives a state income tax credit worth 75 percent of the contribution.
Needless to say, many education establishmentarians are not happy with this advance of educational freedom. Distressed at the thought of competition, the Chicago Teachers Union referred to the new program as a “ticking time bomb on a bus and driving through school districts throughout the state, creating even greater debt and fiscal distress.”
In New Hampshire, Senate Bill 193 is still working its way through the legislative process. If successful in its current form, it would allow low income families and parents of special needs children to opt out of their public school and claim upward of $3,500 in state money for an education savings account to spend on a private education or home schooling.
Opponents of the ESA bill used ye olde siphon argument which stipulates essentially that tax money is mandated by God to go solely to government-run schools.
Another group of anti-choicers goes by the name of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. The union front outfit includes the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, and several other organizations that are funded by unions. In honor of National School Choice Week, they promise to compete with it and disrupt it. The “Our” in AROS has nothing to do with parents or kids, you see. The possessive refers to unions and their power over schools. With very few exceptions, private schools are union-free.
For a truly scary scenario, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece last week which asserts that New York State education officials “are preparing new guidelines to impose strict regulations on the instruction that religious and other private schools provide, while empowering local school districts to shutter those schools if they fail to meet state standards.” Now, keep in mind that New York has no private choice option. This is about killing off private schools that parents are paying for.
The piece explains, “The new guidelines will upend the status quo by imposing additional instructional requirements and giving local school districts the power to shut down parochial and private schools deemed not to be ‘substantially equivalent.’ Local officials will even gain the authority to initiate Family Court proceedings against parents whose children are enrolled in schools that don’t measure up.”
What this means very simply is that the state considers itself the guardian of your children. You are just there to buy them food, soothe their owies and read them bedtime stories. I can’t help but suspect that these obscene and draconian guidelines will be struck down in a courtroom, should they get that far.
Let me close with a few questions for the New York totalitarians, AROS, the teachers unions, and any of their friends who agree with them.
In socialist Sweden, parents are entrusted to pick their kids’ school – private or government-run – and the money follows the child. This system has thrived for over 25 years because competition makes schools better. In fact, the privatization factor works so well that even the socialists like it! Why can’t we, in a capitalist country, benefit from a similar set-up?
Also, Pell Grants, which go to needy college students, are big favorites of both national teachers unions. Yet, Pell recipients can take their taxpayer-funded grants and attend religious schools like Notre Dame and Brigham Young. But on a k-12 level, vouchers are the unions’ worst nightmare. Why is the private option okay for college students, but not high school kids?
And finally, I couldn’t help notice the many pro-abortion signs at Saturday’s women’s marches. Those women say they don’t want the government to have power over the decision to carry a baby to term. Yet I saw nary a sign demanding the government give these women a choice as to where to school the kids they do give birth to. It’s as if they are saying, “In utero, I get to choose. But outside the womb I cede full power to the government.” Why should choice end at birth?
Happy National School Choice Week!
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.