Government-run schools alienating large numbers of families

School district learning plans for this fall are causing parents to look elsewhere. Whether it is the ambiguity of what learning model will be used, or the district’s decision to begin the year without any in-person instruction, or concern over what is being taught, families are realizing the top-down education system has its limitations.

Education can come from a variety of sources beyond traditional public schools: learning pods, micro schools, private/religious schools, charter schools, homeschooling, etc. And for many families, “these independent options hold out a better chance of delivering education safely and effectively than government institutions that keep dropping the ball and are too bureaucratic to handle a world in flux,” writes J.D. Tuccille with the Reason Foundation.

This year, as growing numbers of those diverse American families take responsibility for their children’s education away from failing government institutions, they’ll also take responsibility for the contents of that education. The result is going to be an increased range of opinions, values, and interpretations to be shared and debated by students who otherwise would have been doomed to a force-feeding of officially approved ideas. The pandemic may be threatening our health and breaking our economy, but it may, ultimately, expand our minds.

As I have written here and here, these options don’t have to be limited to families who can afford them. Several states around the country are recognizing that funding education should encompass more than just funding a public school system. Minnesota should join them. If the state gave parents control over their children’s education funding through an education savings account, they could pursue any number of alternative learning models. But with the state controlling each student’s education dollars, the unique needs of families will be impacted, and health, economic and academic disparities will continue.

Given that the point of education is to serve the kids, why wouldn’t the state pursue a way to segment a portion of per pupil dollars so that students are better served? Well, because powerful teachers’ unions stand in the way of anything that hints at shaking up the status quo, even if it means students would be better served.

Teachers’ unions across the country are fighting against school reopening efforts but don’t want to help families access alternatives. They are making “demands” for educational equity but are using children as hostages until they are granted their ideological wish list. They criticize U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for supporting public school alternatives, but they are driving parents to these alternatives by pushing to keep schools closed and authorizing teachers to strike over school re-openings. According to an August survey by Rasmussen Reports, Americans are growing more critical of teachers’ unions and “suspect that they have too much influence over local school operations.”

Minnesota spends nearly $13,000 per student every year but has not made meaningful progress in addressing educational disparities, despite continuous spending increases. Liberal cities, like Minneapolis, have larger achievement gaps than conservative cities.

One-size-fits-all education prescriptions don’t work, and until this is accepted by those who claim to “put kids first,” the needs of diverse student populations will continue to go unmet. Policymakers have an opportunity to adjust policy so it supports all Minnesota students. Otherwise, low-income families and struggling students trapped in a government-run school that has failed to meet their needs will pay the price, again.