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Education policy has changed so much, so quickly in the age of COVID-19, that universal school choice—an ideal out of reach for generations of reformers—has suddenly become a middle ground for most Americans.
The choice of universal education should be a ripe campaign issue for state candidates this fall and a top policy priority for newly elected state legislatures in the new year. The password is very simple: trust parents, not bureaucracies; and fund students, not systems.
It’s not just a slogan. In Arizona, it’s politics now. Thanks to legislation signed by Gov. Doug Ducey this summer, from now on, instead of sending dollars to school districts, every student in the state will receive $7,000 in an Education Savings Account to use at any school or for every educational approach, every year. , from kindergarten to high school.
There’s no reason other states — Texas, in particular — shouldn’t follow suit. The Lone Star State is surrounded by neighbors that have embraced education choice: Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. And let’s be honest: Because of its size and influence, Texas achieving universal school choice would create even greater momentum for similar legislation in other states.
Governor Greg Abbott and the 88th Texas Legislature are perfectly positioned to win a mandate to pass statewide universal education choice and then lead a state-by-state movement to empower parents and ESAs – the new standard of reform throughout the country.
And not far away in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to support expansions of the state’s savings, voucher and tax credit programs, which are enabling nearly 200,000 students to choose a learning environment that fits their needs.
A February poll by RealClear Opinion Research found that 72 percent of Americans (including 68 percent of Democrats) support school choice, while only 18 percent oppose it. Most Americans now rate public schools as unsatisfactory, and about 1.2 million schoolchildren have transferred from them since the start of the pandemic. Arizona, a purple state with two Democratic senators and a blue congressional delegation — just created the nation’s first universal school choice program: an education savings account option open to every Arizona family.
These trends may surprise political insiders, who accept the media’s framing of school choice as a controversial idea. But they shouldn’t. It’s not just that most Americans support school choice; between private and magnet schools, charters, homeschooling, and parents choosing their residence for the school district, most American families already exercise some form of school choice.
This school choice moment is the silver lining of the left’s catastrophic mismanagement of American schools since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers unions, elected progressives and media elites, who have long called themselves the defenders of public education, now shamelessly denigrate it: closing schools, masking and indoctrinating students contrary to scientific and historical facts, conspiracies against parental authority, even covering up crimes and vilifying the FBI about mothers and fathers who objected.
And lest anyone forget, America’s K-12 schools were in crisis before COVID-19. The vast majority of students perform below grade level in reading, writing, civics, history, and math. This was the case before the pandemic and continues today. Boys, in particular, have fallen so far behind that US classrooms are no longer equal opportunity environments.
The “Great Awakening” school closures and theatrics of COVID only feed racist, homophobic, anti-family sociopathy and anti-scientific superstition into an already dysfunctional system desperate for reform.
The good news is that no matter how far to the left the educational establishment has fallen since 2020 — “Math is racist! Kindergarteners are trans! Parents are idiots! America is bad! And by the way, we’re still far, far away !” — The Overton window is moved as far in the opposite direction.
In education today, it is the status quo that is harmful and divisive; School choice is the non-partisan compromise.
Conservatives have never before had an opportunity like this on the issue of education. Come to think of it, conservatives have never had an opportunity like this on any issue.
We have to catch him.
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Nor is there any reason for conservative reformers to aim lower. We both support measures to protect students from racist ideas of critical race theory in classrooms, to protect girls’ sports and the like. But conservatives should not miss the forest for the trees.
Choosing universal education would do more to combat smart indoctrination and student endangerment than all those targeted reforms combined.
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It’s not often that policy and politics line up so well, especially for conservatives. But for now, the question Americans are asking is not whether parental choice in education is a good idea, but rather how it should be implemented.
The answer to this question is how the right can create a successful and popular governing agenda for years to come.
Brooke Rollins is president and CEO of the America First Policy Institute.
Greg Sindelar is CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
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