The Hill: Listen to voters: Expand school choice

By John Schlling, Opinion Contributor, The Hill, January 21, 2024

In a time of great division, crisis, and with a consequential election year upon us, there will be thousands of events around the country celebrating National School Choice Week. That’s a good thing. 

School choice is an issue and a cause that brings people of different backgrounds and ideologies together to ensure that every child in America has access to a quality education. 

Since 2020, 28 states have created or expanded education savings account, tax credit scholarship or voucher programs. Sadly, one state, Illinois, is about to extinguish a school choice program and send thousands of students back to the failing schools their parents chose to leave.

Today, nearly 1 million students are benefitting from state school choice programs. The reason is that policymakers in these states are listening to voters, especially parents, who are demanding more choice in K-12 education. Congress has an opportunity to double or even triple these numbers by passing America’s boldest school choice legislation, the Educational Choice for Children Act (ECCA).

The ECCA is a $10 billion federal scholarship tax credit that would help parents of up to two million students choose the school or education service that works best for their children. It would be funded by private donations to non-profit scholarship-granting organizations in the states, and donors would receive a non-refundable tax credit.  The bill requires no new federal money.

Importantly, the ECCA would complement what forward-thinking states are already doing to expand education freedom. The ECCA scholarship can be stacked on top of what states are already doing. In addition, the ECCA would bring educational opportunity to states where entrenched political opposition continues to deny parents and students access to the learning environment that works best for them.

Leading the opposition are the teachers’ unions, which continue to defy the will of America’s parents. The head of the American Federation for Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said in September that those who back school choice and parental rights policies are only a “small group of extremists” aiming to end public education altogether. 

In December, Weingarten attacked school choice advocates, saying, “They have not one thing that they offer as a solution other than privatizing or voucherizing schools, which is about undermining democracy and undermining civil discourse and undermining pluralism because 90 percent of our kids go to public schools still.”

Undermining democracy and pluralism? Really?  Weingarten should read Ashley Rogers Berner’s terrific book, Pluralism and American Public Education. The book discusses why education pluralism, including vouchers, tax credit scholarships and education savings accounts is more prevalent in democratic societies and produces better outcomes than the uniform state-operated system that Weingarten continues to defend.

These are the same teachers’ union leaders who fought to keep schools closed during the pandemic, a major reason for the catastrophic learning-loss affecting millions of students. They are woefully out of touch with America’s voters. 

A RealClear Opinion Research poll from June 27-30, 2023, found that school choice overall had 71 percent support. Among political parties, 66 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of Republicans, and 69% of Independents favored school choice. A September 2023 poll from “Yes Every Kid” found that 66% of voters support scholarship tax credits. This includes 80 percent of parents, 75 percent percent of Republicans, and 65 percent of Democrats.

Even Democratic education advocates are fully aware of where voters stand on education freedom. Jorge Elorza, CEO of Democrats for Education Reform, said last year, “If we don’t offer an alternative to private school choice, we are going to lose more voters on this issue…We’re going to lose close elections on this issue.”

He’s right.  Every person seeking office — for Congress, governor, state legislature or president — should be mindful of where America’s voters, including America’s parents, stand when it comes to education freedom and school choice.

School choice does not undermine democracy. On the contrary, school choice is about equal opportunity. All children in America, regardless of their parents’ income or socio-economic background, deserve access to the school or education service that works for them.

Educational choice is already working for hundreds of thousands of families in 28 states. Congress can do its part to promote and expand education freedom to as many as 2 million more in all 50 states by passing the Educational Choice for Children Act this year.

Read the full article published by The Hill here.