Washington Examiner: Why the momentum for education freedom is growing

Original article found here.

With a new school year beginning in the coming weeks, educational freedom for children is expanding like never before. Two key reasons for this expansion stand out: The COVID pandemic and the national teachers unions. These factors overlap significantly in that the teachers unions heavily influenced failed pandemic school policies, and those policies drove increasing numbers of parents to seek alternative options for their children outside the public school system.

During the last two school years, public school enrollment dropped on a net basis by nearly 1.3 million students, according to data tracked by the American Enterprise Institute and Davidson College. Undoubtedly, this number would have been higher if more parents could have afforded to leave.

Several states did pass policies to help families looking for an exit. Seven states created new private school choice programs, and another 15 states expanded existing ones, according to EdChoice. This, in turn, resulted in a 9% private school enrollment increase in just one year. And just last month, Arizona enacted the largest expansion of educational freedom yet, creating education savings accounts accessible for every student in the state. Under this program, more than one million children will be eligible for up to $7,000 in educational expenses that can be used for things such as private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and tutoring.

The school choice movement is on a roll.

Congress is also stepping up its efforts to give parents better options. Earlier this summer, for example, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and my late friend and former colleague Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) introduced the Educational Choice for Children Act. This bill would significantly expand privately funded scholarships for students in grades K-12 by providing federal tax incentives to make charitable donations to scholarship funds.

But where school choice has succeeded, it has also run into enormous opposition. The two national teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, have consistently opposed educational freedom and choice for families. They do this in a myriad of ways, such as pressuring lawmakers to block legislation and, failing that, bringing lawsuits to stop school choice laws from going into effect. They even pressure local entities such as school boards and city councils to deny permitting and funding to alternative education options like charter schools.

But teachers union arguments against educational freedom have become shopworn and out of date, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. Public polling reflects this. Support for school choice in all its variations has become increasingly popular across all demographics and political parties.

Last month, for example, a poll by Morning Consult found two-thirds of all Americans support school choice policies when given a description. This result echoes OnMessage polling earlier this year which found 75% of voters agree that “parents should be in charge of decisions regarding their child’s education,” and 71% agree that “schools should be focused on teaching the basics and stop focusing on pushing a political philosophy … [and] parents should be able to move their children to a different school if they believe their school has become too political.” Pollsters would struggle to find another issue on which the consensus is so strong.

Unwittingly, the teachers unions are helping unify people in support of school choice. Parents know it was the unions that drove pandemic school closures, and now, they see them playing a visible role in the growing classroom culture wars. At its annual convention last month, for example, the NEA condemned the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion ruling, called for “climate justice,” proposed replacing the word “mother” with “birthing parent,” embraced critical race theory, and expressed support for unpopular mask and vaccine mandates.

It’s no coincidence then, that the AFT’s own latest polling revealed for the first time that voter confidence on education issues has tipped toward the GOP.

At least in part, this shift is driven by an unprecedented alignment of voter support for school choice. Lawmakers, Republican or Democrat, who want to empower parents with greater freedom over their children’s education would be wise to seize the moment.

The result will be a stronger and freer future for our children and our nation.

Luke Messer is a former U.S. representative for Indiana and the president of the Invest in Education Coalition , which supports school choice policies to expand educational freedom for children.