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Funding students instead of systems

The debate over in-person school this fall continues on in Minnesota. Returning all students to the classroom is one of three possible scenarios being considered by the Minnesota Department of Education, Department of Health, and the Governor’s office, and they are expected to release their plan on which model of educational delivery schools should start preparing to implement in less than two weeks (by the week of July 27). If all students don’t return to the classrooms, either the option of a hybrid model of learning or a distance-only model would most likely be adopted.

Because reopening will look different by region, it’s important local school leaders get a say in what the school year will look like, versus top-down mandates that may not meet the needs of different communities. If schools don’t reopen (which, would likely cause students to fall further behind, and given our persistent education disparities, would not be good), then it’s important we focus on student-centered solutions, such as emergency education savings accounts, that don’t force parents to continue paying for closed schools and a status quo whose ROI was questionable pre-COVID.

The government already sets aside tax dollars for every child’s education, but in an ESA, the money is able to follow the child. Given the numerous COVID-19 related concerns facing education, and how poorly distance learning went for many students, ESAs could be a solution to address a variety of these concerns and ensure students can continue learning safely. Low-performing students and disadvantaged students face a greater risk of being disproportionately affected if schools don’t reopen. State leaders should carefully consider the cost associated with keeping students out of school, even part time, and realize it goes beyond academic performance concerns. If the focus shifts to funding students, not systems, more students will be better served, according to Corey Deangelis with the Reason Foundation.

…[I]f public schools can’t reopen, or aren’t equipped to provide adequate education online, families shouldn’t be forced to pay for them.

Putting power into the hands of families would give schools incentives to provide their children with a good education. In fact, a national survey by Common Sense Media found that students in private schools were over twice as likely as students in government schools to connect with their teacher each day during lockdown. This is probably because private school leaders know that they will lose their customers—and their funding—if they don’t meet their needs. Schools that provide shoddy remote learning, do not provide flexible scheduling arrangements, or do not sufficiently address student safety will lose students and their funding.

That’s how the education system should work. We should fund students instead of systems. The power should always be in the hands of families instead of bureaucrats.

Regardless of what educational model is decided upon, parents should be given the opportunity to decide which educational setting works best for their family. Creating emergency Education Savings Accounts could be the financial solution districts need and the support parents are looking for.

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