When the teachers’ union supports school choice

The National Education Association (NEA) has voiced support for the Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act, introduced in December by Senators Todd Young (R-IN) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

“NEA applauds Senators Young and Van Hollen for introducing the Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act of 2019, which will offer crucial assistance to struggling families with school-age children,” said Lily Eskelsen García, President of the National Education Association. “This bill will help keep students on track, ensure that they can attend school regularly, and provide the opportunity for an education that sparks students’ curiosity and motivates them to learn. We must do everything we can to end homelessness and make sure all students have the learning resources and tools they deserve. This is a step in the right direction.”

But what the NEA may not realize is that its support of the bill is actually an endorsement of a form of public school choice, according to American Enterprise Institute’s John Bailey.

…[The Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act] proposes to give 500,000 “Housing Choice Vouchers” to low-income families with young children to move to neighborhoods that have high-performing schools and better job prospects. Drawing on lessons from several new research studies, the bill would also fund a number of support services to assist families with making these moves, including landlord outreach, counseling, and home visitation services.

NEA’s statement focuses on the housing security provided through this reform but misses the irony that they’re actually endorsing a form of public school choice — a policy they have traditionally opposed. Put another way, NEA supports vouchers that allow families to move to a better school district, just not vouchers that allow families to send their child to another public school, a public charter school, or a magnet school.

For lower income families and families of color, housing vouchers could create not only economic opportunities but expanded educational freedom as well, Bailey continues.

States with private school choice programs could further empower those families with private school options after a family has moved.

Policies enabling families to move to areas with better opportunities are essential to breaking cycles of poverty and help children climb up the economic ladder to stable, middle-class jobs. Vouchers, like those offered through the Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act, can help achieve this while also expanding educational options for students.

Residential barriers keep students from enrolling in higher-performing schools, but so does limited accessibility to real educational choice. If vouchers for private and religious schools were available to low-income families, more families would be able to access a better school environment. As Milton Friedman stated, which the NEA’s website gets incorrect, vouchers  help low-income children: “The effect of vouchers would be very minor on the wealthy. They wouldn’t be affected one way or the other. But it would be major on the bottom half of the income distribution, for the families there, who would like to have a better alternative for their children, but don’t see how they can afford it.”