Republican majority must keep promise to parents and students: Luke Messer

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In the 2022 midterm elections, parents made their voices heard throughout the country by re-electing several pro-school choice governors, overturning numerous local school boards (particularly in Florida) who were not listening to parents and electing a decidedly more pro-school choice U.S. House of Representatives. Educational freedom was a big winner in the midterm elections.

The U.S. House was flipped by voters from a narrow Democrat majority to a narrow Republican majority. The new members who make up the Republican majority are strongly in favor of educational freedom and choice. The question now is will Republicans deliver for America’s parents and students?

The trend toward greater educational freedom and choice in K-12 education began last year when pandemic-weary parents swung statewide elections in Virginia, and school board elections in major municipalities. While issues like inflation, crime, and abortion were dominating public debates and campaign advertising across America this fall, concerned parents remained a crucial swing vote, and they were concerned about transparency in public education and the lack of educational choice. There are several reasons for this trend.

First, the pandemic made clear what education reformers have known for decades. Our K-12 system is antiquated, inflexible, and in desperate need of liberation so that all families – not just the wealthy – are empowered to make the best educational decisions for their children.

Second, the system utterly failed to deliver an adequate education to students during the pandemic. This failure resulted in learning loss and a dramatic increase in mental health challenges for students, especially for children in low-income families, children of color, and special needs children. The recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores bear this out: under 40 percent of 4th and 8th graders are proficient in reading and math, with more than 30 percent scoring at the below basic level. There were significant declines from 2019 and those scores were also dismal.

Third, it became clear to millions of parents that a lot of public school districts around the country are too focused on politics – renaming buildings, keeping schools closed, and imposing woke curriculum – teaching children what to think instead of how to think. Parents got a look under the hood of their child’s education during the pandemic, and a lot of them were alarmed at what they found.

Looking to take back control of their child’s education, parents have been demanding action by their elected representatives. School choice had been ascendant for a decade before the pandemic, but in 2021 and 2022, more than 20 states created or expanded tax credit scholarship, voucher, and education savings account programs. Support for school choice, already robust, grew even stronger. In poll after poll, more than two-thirds of all voters now support school choice. Among parents of school-aged children, support is near 80 percent. In modern American politics, very few issues enjoy this level of consensus support.

Unfortunately, two groups of Americans consistently oppose school choice – teachers’ unions and progressive Democrats.

With Republicans in a House majority they are in position to expand educational freedom by directly empowering parents and there are strong signs to believe they will do it.

In the House Republicans’ “Commitment to America” agenda, they pledged to deliver a Parents Bill of Rights and access to a “school of choice for more than a million students.”

The Parents Bill of Rights is an affirmative statement that parents should be in charge of their children’s education. Contrary to the view of the National School Boards Association, which labeled engaged parents “domestic terrorists,” parents should have the right to know what is happening with their child’s education. Period.

Republicans also are offering legislation that would directly empower parents with the purchasing power to choose the best educational setting and solutions for their own children. The Educational Choice for Children Act (ECCA) is a federal scholarship tax credit that would help more than a million access a school or educational remedy of their parents’ choice. The bill would incentivize corporate and individual donors to contribute to non-profit Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs) in the states which would provide scholarships that could be used for tuition, tutoring to address learning loss, special needs services, or education technology among other uses.

With the ECCA, Congress would, for the first time, put parents in charge of their children’s education across the country. The bill would not only supplement what many states are already doing but would create this opportunity in states that currently lack K-12 educational freedom and choice. The legislation would contribute to the strengthening of policies in the states that seek to put more parents in charge of their children’s education.

Republicans are now in a stronger position to demonstrate they are truly on the side of parents and students by delivering on their education agenda and passing these bills. Our nation’s families need this commitment to be kept and are demanding no less.