For many years a forgotten and thankless elected post has been that of a school board member. But for the past 18 months, the spotlight has been on school boards.
Groups of angry rival parents overwhelmed school board meetings. Fights over in-person learning, curriculum, cultural issues and mask mandates have divided communities. And the policies of Governor Tom Wolf’s administration have fueled some of the most intense and heated disagreements.
Today, to overcome the fury and chaos that envelops our education system, we should all ask ourselves: how do we heal the anger expressed by so many parents?
To answer this, we must first understand what caused the discord. It wasn’t just a global pandemic – as many would have you believe. Instead, it stems from a government bureaucracy and union leadership that impose increasingly conflicting (and often unpredictable) state-wide mandates on every child, regardless of the circumstances.
These political dictates have brought to light a simple fact for many parents: they have little say in what happens to their children in public schools.
Parents – forced to watch their children fall behind academically, socially, or both during the pandemic – will no longer put up with Harrisburg’s ever-changing edicts.
What should we do? It’s not complicated. Lawmakers must give parents more decision-making power. Choice policies in education such as those in the Excellence in Education for All Act (Bill 1) empower parents. HB 1 would dramatically increase access to programs that allow parents to choose the educational environment that best matches their children’s needs and family priorities.
Such a law would calm the anger by allowing parents to place their children in schools that adopt policies with which they are comfortable. With HB 1, parents could seek the kind of education they want for their children rather than having no choice but to accept education. A postal code or income would no longer determine a student’s educational opportunities.
There is growing scientific evidence that this approach benefits students and communities in multiple ways.
A recent report from the University of Arkansas School Choice Demonstration Project found a positive relationship between educational choice and overall student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Researchers attribute the education gains to increased competitive pressure on district schools – a win-win situation for all students, regardless of the type of school they attend.
Dozens of additional studies corroborate the benefits of educational choice throughout the system. For example, the EdChoice meta-analysis found that six of seven studies show that school choice programs reduce racial segregation, 65 of 70 studies show a positive fiscal impact on public schools (saving money of taxpayers) and 29 of 30 studies show an increase in parental satisfaction.
This is the key. Policies that give parents an increased level of authority over their children’s education increases satisfaction with the education system. Dissatisfaction with K-12 education is at worrying levels, and lawmakers cannot and should not ignore this tangible benefit.
Here in Pennsylvania, there is a flurry of school choice proposals. They range from creating Educational Opportunity Accounts (EOAs) for students with special needs to creating Pandemic Relief Grants, which are one-time grants funded by the federal government to offset the cost of the. alternative education during the pandemic.
Among the proposals, HB 1 would help the most parents. This would augment existing tax credit scholarship programs, reform the Pennsylvania charter school system, offer EOAs to any Pennsylvania student, and protect entrepreneurship education efforts like learning modules from a loss. excessive regulation.
A recent poll by RealClear Opinion Research shows that 74% of registered voters support the choice of education – an all-time high. The General Assembly should act quickly to pass – and the governor should sign into law – those well-supported, family-oriented reforms that put parents in charge of their children’s education.
Nathan Benefield is Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Commonwealth Foundation.