Back to School is here, and it seems we are back to where we ended – struggling to adapt to continued uncertainty without the luxury of time on our side. Students can ill afford to lose another semester, let alone another year.
Among the important developments of the coronavirus pandemic is the growing realization of why choice in education really matters. Now is the time to make the shift to a lasting environment of school choice that gives parents the capacity to opt into or opt out of the school setting that works for their children and their circumstances and the means to make it work.
The primacy of student well-being and effective learning dictates that in-person education cannot be a luxury for most. Families are getting creative in how to make education possible if the schools are not going to open, and they deserve greater access and control over the money we pour into education from the local to the federal levels.
Information from the President’s team underscores the importance of the real issues that parents need to consider:
“Failure to offer in-person classes could harm students’ development, especially those in disadvantaged communities. Nationwide, nearly 30 million American students rely on schools for free or reduced meals. More than 70% of children receiving mental health services do so at school, and nearly all therapies for children with intellectual or physical disabilities are performed at school.”
The Trump Administration is also aware that families need the flexibility to weigh decisions before them:
“It is vital that parents be allowed to weigh both the benefits and risks of sending their child back to school, including the level of community spread and the makeup of their household, especially for multi-generational households.”
That is why President Trump’s emphasis on encouraging schools to reopen safely coupled with proposals to expand the educational choices of families need action now. Specifically, President Trump is calling for legislation to ensure that schools have the funding and incentives they need to safely reopen this fall and empower families with school choice.
“To encourage schools to make in-person classes available this fall, the President is requesting $105 billion in education funding as part of the next coronavirus relief bill—$70 billion of which will directly support K-12 education. Approximately $35 billion of the $70 billion will be reserved for schools that reopen. If schools do not reopen, funding should follow students so parents can send their child to the private, charter, religious, or home school of their choice.”
The School Choice Now Act, introduced by Sens. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), provides a mechanism for giving scholarships to students for use at the school setting of their choice, including home-based schooling, and includes robust protections for schools and families to operate free of government intrusion that could compromise their mission or beliefs.
Families are being faced with unprecedented obligations to assume primary responsibility for keeping their children engaged and learning. The fragility of the public-school system, including how teacher unions can hold it hostage, is being exposed. The shortcomings of traditional ways of delivering education in a technological age that intensifies the divide between have and have-nots is more obvious than ever. We cannot afford limping along for another year in the same way we saw last year limp to a close.
In a pandemic age, education must be adaptable. If teacher unions are going to prevent public schools from reopening, then now is the time to allow greater access and investment in our private, faith-centered, and home-based schools. President Trump’s focus is on target: giving parents the means to consider better options and the choice to take them.