School Choice

As Teachers Unions and Bureaucrats Battle, Families Choose Alternative Schools

Making it easier for families to fund their preferred education options will be a lot more effective than throwing a big bribe to teachers unions.

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As part of his big-bucks pandemic relief package, President Joe Biden proposes $130 billion dollars to reopen public K-12 schools. It's an impressive figure when you consider that annual federal funds to government schools in recent years has been around $60 billion, with the vast majority of school money coming from state and local sources. But much opposition to opening schools for in-person instruction comes from teachers unions fighting to draw pay while kids languish with substandard remote offerings. That makes the money look like a bribe to the administration-linked labor bloc to get it to live up to the example of competing education options.

This School Choice Week, let's compare the government schools with those alternatives.

"The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, and the students and parents they serve," Biden argued in his American Rescue Plan, released before his inauguration. "The president-elect's plan will provide $130 billion to support schools in safely reopening," it added, leading into a list of potential purchases with the truly vast sum of money.

But the offer to make schools safer comes months after data from Europe and the United States indicates that schools aren't hot beds of infection. "Two new international studies show no consistent relationship between in-person K-12 schooling and the spread of the coronavirus," Anya Kamenetz noted for NPR last October.

"The best available data suggests that infection rates in schools simply mirror the prevalence of covid-19 in the surrounding community," Emily Oster, a Brown University economics professor, wrote in November.

"The default position should be to try as best as possible within reason to keep the children in school or to get them back to school," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, commented on November 29. While Fauci has flip-flopped on this issue, he repeatedly returns to the idea that schools should be open to teach children.

Nevertheless, many government schools across the country remain closed or only intermittently open. That's largely a result of opposition by teachers unions, who raise bogus safety fears. Even now, unions in Minneapolis and St. Paul resist reopening and the union in Chicago plans to strike over the issue.

And while bureaucrats and union leaders clash over whether the schools they mismanage should make any sort of effort to serve students, those kids are backsliding. The effects aren't yet catastrophic, but test scores show children losing groundespecially in math.

While public school have never been very flexible or responsive to family needs and have a reputation for underachieving, their nearly complete failure to adapt to the pandemic has driven students to the exits. "Public school enrollment is down across the country," Taryn Morrissey, associate professor of public administration and policy at American University School of Public Affairs, observed earlier this month. "For example, enrollment dropped by 15,000 in Chicago public schools and more than 20,000 for the District of Columbia."

The extent of flight from government schools varies but, in October, NPR reported "the average kindergarten enrollment drop was 16%."

In an analysis of 33 states, Chalkbeat and The Associated Press found an overall decline in public school enrollment of 2 percent after years of slow, steady increase.

Where are those kids going?

"Some children, especially those from high-income families, are attending private schools, which are more likely to offer in-person schooling," adds Morrissey. "An increasing number of families are choosing to home-school."

"In a survey of 160 independent schools over 15 states and the District of Columbia, almost half of schools (78) surveyed report they have experienced higher enrollment in the current school year, relative to the prior year," Damian Kavanagh, president of the Mid-South Independent School Business Officers association and Ben Scafidi, the director of the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University reported in November. "Forty-eight schools experienced a decrease in enrollment, while the remaining 34 schools had enrollments 'stay about the same.' Of schools where enrollment essentially was unchanged, the reason that enrollment did not increase at 14 of them was because they were at capacity."

Keep in mind that, during a time of lockdown-induced economic privation, people are digging deep in their pockets to pay private school tuition on top of the taxes extracted for the schools they've fled. Why? "More families are seeking out private or independent schools that are fully in-person rather than remote," The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina reported last week.

But, if you want something done your way, the best approach may be to do it yourself and families are doing just that in droves. An estimated 3.3 percent of children were homeschooled in 2016, up from 1.7 percent in 1999, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That share is now closer to 10 percent, as indicated by surveys from Education Week and Gallup.

"Home schooling will become more mainstream and socially acceptable, now that so many people are getting experience with schooling their own children from home—whether it's through traditional home schooling or overseeing their children's remote schooling," Christopher Lubienski, a professor of education policy at Indiana University, told Education Week.

Making such an outcome more likely is the proliferation of resources for families that choose to educate their own children. The National Homeschooling Association even offers an online curriculum matching service (and I offer a free online list of resources).

Families are also joining together to pool their efforts in "learning pods" and "microschools"a range of arrangements that span the spectrum from homeschooling co-ops to small, flexible private schools with paid teachers. The exact form varies because the needs of parents and students vary. That is, while bureaucrats and union officials battle over whether schools should be open at all, families are ignoring the spats to develop approaches that work for their particular situations.

But laying out tuition and resources for various forms of private school and homeschooling gets spendy when you're also coughing up the taxes for ineffective government offerings that you don't want. That can limit options to middle- and upper-income families while poorer kids wait on the one-size-fits-some outcomes of labor negotiations. Public schools are on the verge of becoming the education equivalent of Medicaida last-resort choice for those who can't afford better.

Fortunately, some states offer tax credits, vouchers, and other means of letting families spend at least some proportion of education funds on options they choose rather than on take-it-or-leave-it government offerings. More are considering changes to let money follow kids to their chosen education.

"Legislators in 14 states have introduced bills to fund students instead of systems this month," notes Corey DeAngelis, the Reason Foundation's Director of School Choice. The Educational Freedom Institute, where DeAngelis is executive director, tracks states that are considering expanding school choice and makes it easy to contact lawmakers.

That's a good place to start if you want to improve children's access to learning. Making it easier for families to fund their preferred education options will be a lot more effective than throwing a big bribe to teachers unions.

NEXT: Parents Who Opt Out of Public Schools Don't Deserve Smears From Teachers Unions

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  6. Ironically; Your biggest support for School Choice was just shoved out the door by the last Fraudulent Election Clown-Show ‘debunked’ by whoopsie-daisies, 48%+94% = 100% math, pure ignorance and a “Cancel Culture” justice system.

    Pretending that the Democratic National Socialists will embrace school choice is absurd. The only way they’ll embrace school choice is if it’s various Nazi indoctrination camps loaded with Cancel Culture activists and word censorship. As if Pelosi’s house rules to abolish the terms Father, Mother, Daughter and Son wasn’t a complete give-away.

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      1. We all know the media is full facist

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  9. We have had both our sons in a private school in person since September and they are doing great. Our youngest would have none of the Zoom classes in the spring and take home packets that repeated the same stuff. On the other hand, we’ve had some friends determined to keep their kids in public schools because they believe in them and don’t want to contribute to inequality. The sad thing is there are some who have kids with learning disabilities who are the ones truly suffering and the school committee won’t do a damn thing to help them, except to tell them to wait it out

  10. But much opposition to opening schools for in-person instruction comes from teachers unions fighting to draw pay while kids languish with substandard remote offerings.

    The schools got caught flat-footed on this one, but I’m surprised a private organization hasn’t developed at truly workable remote education program on the elementary level by now.

    1. There are alot, but they keep getting sued by the teachers unions and tied up in court

  11. “Making such an outcome more likely is the proliferation of resources for families that choose to educate their own children.”

    Resources like books? Families have long educated their own children with such resources. They’ve done so without the benefit of the government coaxing that is advocated here.

  12. From US News and World Report: “A portion of funding would be reserved for a COVID-19 Educational Equity Challenge Grant, which would fund partnerships between state, local and tribal governments and teachers, parents and other education or community organizations that address coronavirus-related education challenges through an equity lens.”

    I guess “Fuck you, cut spending” is off the table. Oh well, it’s only money, right?

  13. As the proud owner of a 42 foot cruising catamaran who sails in the Florida Keys, Bahamas, Cuba, and down island in season I know multiple families doing the same thing. As one might imagine all these families home school (really boat school) their kids. I also spend lots of time in the Keys (which I sorta consider my home of record) and see how these kids perform when they enter the public schools there. Without exception the kids are stars in public school performing well above grade level.

    I do realize there are some very good public schools but on the whole home schooling produces much better results than most public schools.

  14. ” ‘Public school enrollment is down across the country,’ Taryn Morrissey, associate professor of public administration and policy at American University School of Public Affairs, observed earlier this month.”

    Even a massively deadly pandemic appears to have stuck a bit of grit to seed at least this pearl.

    Willingly sending our children to government schools is a form of child abuse.

  15. Isn’t it past time to make teachers and their unions responsible for their product? Set standards, require teachers to meet those standards (judged by open, verifiable testing) or forfeit their licenses. Meanwhile, fine the teachers unions a million dollars per license lost through incompetence.

    Institute those changes and watch the teachers unions demand more from their charges. Also, watch substandard teachers flee the profession.

    Then lay down the law on history and social studies teachers by forbidding the teaching of left wing ideologies and slanted history. Hold the unions responsible for this also.

  16. Home Schooling only works for kids who are already, naturally smart and enjoy school. Otherwise, you’re not getting anything better but a lot of headaches. In fact studies show that home school kids are pretty dumb.

    1. You must be reading “studies” on cereal boxes. Serious studies consistently show that home school students outscore public school students on standardized tests.

      Your jealousy of their accomplishments is transparent, and pathetic.

  17. and the fraud in Homeschooling is unreal.

  18. It’s all about the money. Private schools want taxpayer dollars even if the money comes from private school budgets.

  19. We’ve been homeschooling this year (while working full time) and my kids’ learning has been above and beyond what they were getting in public school. I’m actually a bit ashamed I ever thought that our (highly ranked, BTW) public schools were doing a good job. Previously, I had thought that sending my kids to public school and donating a large chunk of income to charities would provide more help for at-risk kids. Now, I see that public schools need a massive overhaul, and my family will hopefully do our part to expedite this by opting out and homeschooling or private schooling.
    I’m seeing *a lot* of fed up parents. Good “liberal” middle class and upper middle class people who see that teachers’ unions have no problem throwing their kids under the bus at the slightest provocation. I don’t know how the teachers’ unions can’t see how badly they have overplayed their hand.

    1. “I don’t know how the teachers’ unions can’t see how badly they have overplayed their hand.”

      Then you don’t know how powerful they truly are.

      Just wait and see what happens to those politicians who come out in favor of school choice/funding students/vouchers/whatever it gets called. A very large portion of all that money flowing down from Biden is going to fund their protection racket. It will be spent defeating those politicians and teaching all the other politicians an abject lesson about who really runs things.

      1. The only way this system gets changed is by outlawing public employee unions.

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  22. If you wanted school choice, you had to vote for Trump. As public teacher unions are a core democrat consituency, expect their anti-school choice policies to be enacted.

    Remember, as Barack Hussein Obama said, “elections have consequences”.

    1. It’s disgusting to see Reason exalt charter schools after four years of relentlessly attacking Trump and helping install Usurper Biden as president. If school choice dies, Reason only need look in the mirror to see the cause.

  23. My understanding is that this is all a push to enact policy in service of an anti-government ideological agenda. Yes? Straight from the Koch brother’s big brain? He knows it’s big because he inherited a lot of money.

    1. There you go cornholing a dead thread……AGAIN. Piss off, toejam.

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