Teachers’ union celebrates education bill being killed that would have put students first

The National Education Association (NEA) listed the killing of an education bill that would have expanded educational opportunity for Minnesota families as part of the union’s “major wins” in 2021.

The national teachers’ union compiled a list of “wins” in 2021 for every state. Included in Minnesota’s, which focused on the increase in school funding, was a sentence on “kill[ing] a voucher bill that would have siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools to unregulated private schools.” This claim is filled with misrepresentations.

The bill being referenced, Senate File 960, was introduced during the 2021 legislative session and included a provision for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). As I explain here, ESAs are not the same as vouchers, but opponents of educational choice programs use the same politically loaded language — vouchers — to describe them.

An ESA program allows parents to use the state education dollars allocated for their child toward a variety of different state-approved education-related expenses, such as tutoring or supplemental curriculum, mental health treatment, special education services and therapy, or tuition at a private school. This gives parents flexibility and control to access learning services that work best for their children. Parents access their child’s share of state education assistance through a restricted, government-authorized savings account often in the form of a debit card. ESAs provide education dollars directly to families (from whom education funding comes in the first place) versus a specific school or institution.

An overwhelming number of empirical studies confirm that educational choice programs (including ESAs) do not have a negative fiscal impact on public schools and taxpayers. They do not “drain” public schools or “defund” them. For ESAs, the state dollars follow the student to the school doing the work of educating them; federal and local funds stay behind in a student’s home district even though the student is no longer there.

Claims that school choice programs rob districts of money are unfair, writes Jessica Poiner for the Fordham Institute. “[N]o school — district, charter, private, or otherwise — is entitled to students.”

Families have the right to choose where to send their children to school, and schools are allocated money based on students they actually teach, not students they could have taught. To do otherwise would be to prioritize systems — one specific system — over students.

Studies also show that educational choice programs not only improve the academic outcomes of those who participate in them but also the outcomes of the students remaining in public schools.

And there is no basis for claiming that private schools face no accountability or regulation, writes Aaron Churchill for the Fordham Institute. “Indeed, there’s a good case that they are more accountable than traditional districts through the discipline of the educational marketplace.”

The teachers’ union’s long-standing opposition to school choice and its expansion shows how unwilling it is to put kids first. Not all students thrive in the same learning environment. By actively fighting against efforts that help students access the educational setting that works best for them, the union sends a clear message: It is focused on investing in a top-down education system instead of children.

Parents, particularly in communities of color, support ESAs and expanding school choice, and it’s time for Minnesota to join the numerous other states who are prioritizing students over an education system with clear shortcomings.

(Photo: NEA.org)