The new revolution

School choice is making waves across the country thanks to union boss Randi Weingarten.

The year 2023 was a great one for parents and students in many states nationwide. I never imagined the school choice movement would make such dramatic progress in such a short time. With Republican-led legislatures ushering in universal school choice programs, Arkansas, Ohio, Florida, and our neighbor Iowa to name a few, allow all students and families to use state funds toward non-public schools and escape the failing government-run public education system.

Corey DeAngelis, a senior fellow at the American Federation for Children who spoke at an American Experiment co-sponsored event in May, calls 2023 “the year of school choice.” So, who do we have to thank for this groundbreaking trend? None other than Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) — the second-largest teachers’ labor union in America. Weingarten’s radical agenda and the extreme tactics of the teachers’ unions have resurrected the school choice movement. In addition to the states already mentioned, Utah, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Indiana have all passed some form of school choice through Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Additional ESA proposals are currently pending in Texas, North Carolina, West Virginia, Georgia, and Montana.

“The dam is breaking on the government school monopoly,” says DeAngelis. And, if I may add, it is about time that parents are given a chance to rescue the next generation of children from the toxic clutches of Big Education.

The public education-government complex has proven itself to prioritizing extreme leftist ideology above students’ academic performance and place union interests above parental concerns and rights. It has single-handedly energized a backlash that threatens to break through the education monopoly wall that has seen growing cracks since the COV- ID-19 pandemic school shutdowns of the last couple of years.

American Experiment has seen the light shining through the cracks in a number of ways, exposing weaknesses in a former iron grip. The summer 2022 Thinking Minnesota Poll found that the percentage of respondents who gave Minnesota’s public schools an “A” grade was half of what it was only two-and-a-half years ago in March 2020, while those who gave schools a “D” or “F” had doubled. This is disappointing to say the least considering Minnesota’s reputation as a state with excellent public schools, but unsurprising considering the learning loss around the politically charged school closures at the behest of Gov. Tim Walz and his teachers’ union overseers.

I envision a near future when over half of the states will adopt some form of universal school choice legislation. This will allow parents to have some control over how our education dollars are spent rather than bureaucrats who take their marching orders from union bosses like Weingarten. ESAs give parents the freedom to choose which schools and curriculum will best fit the needs of their children. Public schools and their administrators will be forced to respond to the needs and wishes of parents or watch as students transfer to schools that perform better academically. Schools with low standards — or none at all — will flounder and eventually close. Isn’t this the way it’s supposed to work in a free and open society? I think Minnesota parents and students would wholeheartedly agree.

In fact, the same 2022 Thinking Minnesota Poll found that most Minnesotans do agree that academic achievement should be the top priority in our schools: 41 percent — an overwhelming number compared to 17 percent who think supporting teachers should be the top priority. Minnesota students deserve an education centered on the tried-and-true “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic” over non-academic, culturally trendy vacuousness such as Critical Race Theory and trans-activism — issues that only serve to divide groups and leave children ill-prepared to succeed in the future. Senior policy fellow Kathy Kersten has a feature in this issue about the troubling push to indoctrinate kids in this ideology, alarmingly against parents’ values and even without their knowledge.

Indoctrination is bad enough, but public schools have proven their utter incompetence in ever-falling test scores and an increasing number of kids who fail to meet basic math and reading standards. According to the 2023 statewide assessment results by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), more than half of Minnesota students don’t meet basic proficiency in reading or math. Education policy fellow Catrin Wigfall has documented these falling scores going back to her 2020 American Experiment report “Allergic to Accountability: Minnesota’s public schools have little to show for decades of increased spending.” Yet despite unacceptable poor performance, teachers’ unions and public schools demand more and more funding even with solid data showing our willingness to increase funding year after year has resulted in lower and lower test scores and learning proficiency. It’s time to demand accountability. A good path toward that is through school choice with parents putting their own money where it will be used to maximum effectiveness, which might not be at a public school.

In order to get us back on track for academic excellence and rising standards, a concerted effort must be made to eliminate the influence that these union bosses have in our schools. Their unending demand for more money while they fail our kids is essentially anti-child, anti-knowledge, and quite frankly, anti-American. We must move away from academic standards that emphasize division along race, sex, and political lines. It’s time to recognize that union bosses like Randi Weingarten have little regard for parents and children but exist solely as an organization to maintain power and political influence. It’s time we consider school choice as the means to reform our education system, return power to parents, and focus on who should be the benefactors of our education system: parents and students.

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