As a result of their insistence on school closings, the unions are inadvertently leading the charge to educational freedom.
As I wrote last week, opposition to teacher union-mandated lockdowns is growing. Parent groups are springing up all over the country, demanding that schools reopen. They see the irreparable harm being done to their kids on a daily basis, and a growing body of data justifies their concerns. A brand new study details the tragedy that has befallen children. FAIR Health, a company that “possesses the nation’s largest collection of private healthcare claims data,” reports that young people are suffering profoundly. For example, comparing August 2019 and August 2020, there was a 333.93 percent increase in intentional self-harm claims in the U.S. Northeast for 13-18 year-olds. Also, for the same age cohort, drug overdoses in April 2020 were more than double what they were in April 2019. While this study was primarily concerned with teens, the white paper did report that, from spring to November 2020, “obsessive-compulsive disorder and tic disorders increased as a percentage of all medical claim lines from their levels in the corresponding months of 2019” for 6-12 year-olds.
Additionally, mental health problems account for a growing proportion of children’s visits to hospital emergency rooms. In November, the CDC reported that from March 2020, when the pandemic was declared, to October 2020, the figure was up 31 percent for those 12 to 17 years old and 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11, compared with the same period in 2019.
Economically, the lockdowns will have ramifications for many years. In September 2020, economists Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann found that accrued lockdown-related learning losses will amount to $14.2 trillion in current dollars. Clearly, these losses have grown for those stuck in locked-down schools in the ensuing six months.
So it is hardly surprising that a November EdChoice poll revealed that the number of Americans who think the education system is going in the “right direction” has slumped to an abysmal 23 percent, down 10 points from October. Many parents are fed up. The New York Times Dana Goldstein writes that many parents in the Philadelphia area, frustrated with remote learning, are running for office, suing, relocating and retreating to private school.
And retreating they are. Public schools in 33 states have lost 500,000 students in a one-year period, according to an Associated Press-Chalkbeat analysis in December. While parents with financial means have enrolled their children in private schools or formed pandemic pods, the majority cannot take advantage of these options. The good news for them is that legislatures across the country have begun taking steps to empower parents.
Per the Educational Freedom Institute, there are currently 28 states that have active legislation, the aim of which is to fund students instead of school systems. It is interesting to note that, while red states with weaker teachers unions are over-represented on the list, there certainly is a blue state presence. Massachusetts, Oregon, Minnesota, Maryland and Washington have Educational Savings Account legislation in the hopper, and lawmakers are considering a tax credit scholarship proposal in Connecticut.
The unions are beginning to feel the heat. In a February Tweet, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten insisted, “Teachers, staff, and the unions behind them are not a barrier to schools reopening. We are a barrier to staff and students being put in danger for Republican talking points.” That silly comment didn’t work out too well, so in March she tried a new tactic. With a straight face, she angrily told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “My union has been trying to reopen school since last April.”
Other unionistas are acting to stem the rising school choice tide. Teachers in Indiana wore black on Feb. 24 to protest three school choice bills that are being considered in the state legislature. Also, when the pandemic first hit in March 2020, the Oregon Education Association successfully lobbied to make it illegal for families to switch to virtual charter schools. Here in the Golden State, the California Teachers Association’s bought-and-paid for legislature passed Senate Bill 98 in late June. The trailer bill effectively put a moratorium on new charter school enrollments by capping per-student state funding to last year’s funding levels. Had the legislators not done that, charter school enrollments would be surging now.
In a recent survey, Beck Research reports across-the-board support for school choice policies. Released in January, the Democratic polling outfit found that 65 percent of k-12 parents back school choice. Also, 74 percent of African-Americans and 71 percent of Latinos, groups that stand to gain most from choice, are staunch supporters.
School choice is on the rise today because the teachers unions, along with their crony legislators and robotlike educrats, have made a mess of things. Too many kids have been failed by the overwrought response to Covid-19, and at this time 28 states are taking steps in the right direction. It’s about time.
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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.