elementary students
It’s Time to Move on School Choice Reform

December 9, 2021

By Dr. Thomas Patterson |

Teachers’ unions appear to have run into a buzz saw. On October 25, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten tweeted enthusiastic support for a Washington Post article titled “Parents claim they have the right to shape their kids’ school curriculum. They don’t.”

By November 6, her message had drastically changed. “Parents have to be involved in their kids’ education. They must have a voice. At the same time, we have to teach kids how to—not what to—think.” Sure, Randi.

In the interval, there had been a reality shock: the Virginia governor’s election, this time with an electorate that had wised up. Parents had been appalled when they remotely observed the overtly racist curriculum their children were being taught and then shocked at the blowback, including being charged with “white supremacy,” when they protested.

Moreover, they now realized the unions were responsible for the damaging school COVID shutdowns. Weingarten herself pressured legislatures and school districts into closures. Unions influenced the Biden CDC into adding new and impossible conditions for reopening. They threatened outright strikes if school districts tried to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year.

Voters were not amused. When Terry McAuliffe vowed, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” the damage was done. Polls showed challenger Glenn Youngkin gaining 15-17 points among parents in the last weeks of the campaign. Education-oriented voters swung from favoring McAuliffe by 33 points to a nine-point Youngkin advantage.

Weingarten’s response was that the reports had all been a massive misunderstanding, that it was actually the teachers’ unions that had tried to reopen the schools. Her pathetic gaslighting attempts were ignored.

The longtime symbiotic relationship between the teachers’ unions and the Democrats may be fraying. They both earn the other’s loyalty. According to OpenSecrets, 99.72% of the AFT contributions in 2020 went to Democrats. Fully 97% of AFT donations have gone to Democrats since 1990.

In Virginia, McAuliffe bagged $1 million from the unions. AFT ran ads for McAuliffe, and Weingarten personally stumped for him.

Their money isn’t wasted. As governor, McAuliffe had vetoed nine school choice bills. This year, he affirmed on CNN, “I will never allow [school choice] as governor.” Nationwide, Democrats have been able to stymie the movement for universal school choice in spite of growing majorities in favor.

The Democrats are in a sticky situation now. According to RealClearOpinion research, voters’ support for school choice surged from 64% to 74% in just the last year. Another poll showed 78% approve of Education Savings Accounts, the most comprehensive method for funding parental choice directly.

Voters have expressed particular contempt for politicians (and educators) who send their own children to private schools but deny the same privilege to less fortunate children. 62% of voters said they would be less likely to vote for such a hypocrite.

Terry McAuliffe, for one, got the message. The veto king sent his five children to private schools. When asked about it on NBC this year, his verbatim quote was “Chuck, we have a great school system in Virginia. Dorothy and I have raised our five children.” You’ve gotta love it.

Democrats are stuck with a policy that is not only morally and educationally wrong but is a political loser. Advocates for children and parents should seize the opportunity to not only win some elections but to fundamentally reform the structure of education in America into a system that serves students and parents, not bureaucracies.

Teachers’ unions must be publicly held accountable. These organizations which relentlessly pound a “for the children” theme have a wretched record of not promoting their educational interests.

In the 1960s, when the unions first rose to influence, about $3,000 (inflation-adjusted) dollars were spent per student. Today, that number is over $13,000. Yet academic achievement and the ethnic gap have stubbornly failed to improve.

Not all of the spending increase has gone to teacher salaries, and not all of the fault for academic failure is theirs. But as the dominant influence in education policy for the last half-century, unions must bear major responsibility for the dismal outcomes.

Parents’ rights advocates: take heart. This is our time.

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