Washington Times: The blue wall of opposition to K-12 parental choice – Mothers and fathers should have education freedom for their children

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Education freedom for parents of school-aged children is on the march. Yet millions of elementary and secondary school students remain without adequate schools or any parental choice opportunities. Congress can and should remedy this injustice.

In the last year, eight states have adopted laws to provide parental choice to nearly all families with school-age children to enroll in almost any school, including independent and religious schools. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia provide tax credit scholarship, voucher or education savings account programs, which serve some 700,000 students.

Despite this positive trend in K-12 education freedom, which accelerated during the pandemic when teachers unions forced prolonged closing of district-operated schools, millions of children across the nation remain shut out of any opportunity to attend a safer and better school more conducive to and respectful of their parents’ values and beliefs.

There are 19 states with more than 21 million K-12 district public school students — nearly 46% of national enrollment — that continue to deny education freedom much beyond the government-assigned school based on where students live.

Congress has an opportunity to transcend opposition in these 19 states and directly empower parents to make the best education decisions for their own children, thereby overcoming the iron grip of the teachers unions on education policymaking.

For many years, parental choice in education has been described as the civil rights issue of the 21st century. In that spirit, Congress has a role to expand educational opportunities within constitutional boundaries as it had two generations ago when it overrode many states’ refusal to ban discrimination and enable voting rights.

The comparison between education freedom through parental choice in the 21st century and the post-World War II Civil Rights Movement emphatically does not suggest every parental choice opponent is racist or has dubious motives. This is especially true of lawmakers who oppose federal involvement in education, which is properly a state and local responsibility.

Among the 19 states without private parental choice options are the politically blue enclaves of New York, New Jersey, California and Michigan. Illinois just refused to continue its limited school choice program that will force the 9,000 students back to the district schools from which they fled.

Still, other states beyond these 19 without private school choice have limited reach, including Minnesota, Virginia and more than a dozen other states with programs that respectively assist under 5,000 students.

Congress can deliver education freedom for K-12 students in every state by adopting a credit against federal individual income and corporate taxes for contributions to not-for-profit scholarship-granting organizations to distribute to students. This approach is already battle-tested in 21 states, including Arizona, Florida, Indiana and Iowa.

Legislation in Congress to enact a scholarship tax credit has been proposed by Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Tim Scott of South Carolina, along with GOP Reps. Adrian Smith of Nebraska and Burgess Owens of Utah. The Educational Choice for Children Act would generate up to $10 billion in annual donations for scholarships for approximately 2 million students across every state.

Importantly, the measure would allow scholarships for private school tuition or other K-12 educational needs, including tutoring, special-needs services, curriculum materials and technology, similar to 529 accounts for college. This flexibility is ideal for families in rural areas with limited school options and would benefit children who are home-schooled.

This federal legislation would open new opportunities for students in states that lack education freedom while expanding eligibility and supplementing current benefits — such as enabling access to high school opportunities where most state programs fall short financially.

The tax credit design of the legislation also avoids any federal role in education policy and mandates on states and school districts. Rather, tax credits would curtail the push to federalize education by offering incentives for private donors to generate scholarships for K-12 schooling rather than adding government spending with potential strings attached. As a tax provision, the bill contains no role for the Department of Education.

While numerous states have responded to parental support by expanding schooling options for their children, too many K-12 students remain trapped behind a wall of adult political opposition, primarily — but not exclusively — in blue states influenced by teachers unions’ monopolistic demands. This wall must crumble.

Passing the Educational Choice for Children Act would dismantle the proverbial blue wall against school choice, akin to the Berlin Wall of yesteryear, and thereby expand education freedom to parents and students nationwide.

Peter Murphy is senior adviser to the Invest in Education Coalition