I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. I went to high school, and college, and started my business there. We were the fourth generation of our family to live in West Seattle where we founded and operated local businesses. Over the last 80 years, my family has founded four companies, employed hundreds of people, and created opportunities for many others to grow and succeed.
On August 5, 2020, we made the gut-wrenching decision to leave. That was the day that Washington’s Governor, Jay Inslee, proclaimed that it was “unsafe” for children to attend school in the state, extending our school closures indefinitely. Our school reopening guidelines were the among the strictest in the nation, and even most private schools (including our son’s) remained closed until further notice. Our boys were three and six at the time, and we expected another lockdown through the winter would do far more damage to our collective mental and physical health than COVID ever would.
Shortly after Governor Inslee’s press conference ended, we started packing. A few days later, we put 14 suitcases and duffle bags on an airplane and headed out to spend a year in the Sonoran Desert. As our son started in Scottsdale Public Schools, the battle between the districts, unions, and Governor Ducey were in full swing. After yet another week of “iPad school,” we began frantically looking for a private school that would guarantee an in-person education to our first grader.
We found an opening at a nearby for-profit private school and enrolled our boys on the spot. Within a few weeks, we heard from our older son’s teachers that he wasn’t learning normally. Initially, we dismissed their concerns, assuming they were caused by the impacts of Seattle’s hard lockdown and our extended school closures.
They gently pressed, and we agreed to seek a reading evaluation through a local clinic. The results were all over the place, so we were referred to a local neuropsychologist. Our son underwent two days of intensive testing which finally led us to the answer: he is gifted, has mixed dyslexia, and an ADHD (inattentive type) diagnosis would likely follow after he turned seven.
The number one recommendation was that our son would need to be in a private school long-term. The neuropsychologist described the challenges involved in getting an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and 504 plan, especially with a twice-exceptional child, where the giftedness often hides the disability. Our son would need small class sizes and individualized attention, as he would likely struggle in a public school classroom.
Our for-profit private school bent over backwards to accommodate his needs. They allowed him to continue to attend school through his eight-week, half-day intensive dyslexia treatment program so he could maintain the relationships in his class and participate in Spanish, PE, and STEM. His teacher taught his classmates about learning differences, so they’d approach our son with acceptance and curiosity instead of judgment. They approved his providers’ recommended accommodations without hesitation. They welcomed, loved, and supported our child, regardless of his learning differences.
One year later, our son is reading a grade level above his age thanks in part to the three weekly sessions with a reading specialist provided by his school. Three months into third grade, he no longer needs specialized support and is able to operate independently in an accelerated classroom environment.
Our journey was a privileged one. We had school choice, albeit across state lines. We had access to top private clinics and specialists. We used a combination of health insurance, HSA funds, and savings to cover the over $50,000 cost to remediate our son’s dyslexia and provide him with a private school education that met his unique needs. Very few families can afford this on their own.
Washington State has the exact education system that the teachers’ unions advocate for: strong and well-funded public schools. Seattle spends over $23,000 per child per year on school and teachers make around $100,000 on average. Every bond measure placed on the ballot gets approved overwhelmingly.
But choices are strictly limited – well-funded public school or very-expensive private school. Teachers’ unions have unfettered power to lobby the politicians for whatever they want. In response, over 30 percent of parents have pulled their kids out of Seattle Public Schools in neighborhoods where their families can afford to in just the past three years.
My family came to Arizona because of school choice. We stayed because our kids’ needs were met here. We’ve seen a union-first school system firsthand, and COVID revealed its shortcomings. In Arizona, we are leading the nation in building a child-first system, founded on universal ESAs.
As we hear Governor-Elect Katie Hobbs repeat her union supporters’ lines about Arizona’s school system and her criticism of the ESA program, please remember my family’s story of how a great Arizona private school and our school choice programs changed our son’s life and story for the better.
Every family should be able to choose the school that meets their kids’ unique needs, just like we did.
Kevin Gemeroy was recognized as Washington State’s Mr. Future Business Leader in 1998 and as a Puget Sound Business Journal’s 40 under 40 honoree in 2018. He and his wife reside in Scottsdale during the school year with their two twice-exceptional boys. You can follow Kevin on Twitter here.
For years now, we’ve heard the same old talking points from the left when it comes to our state’s schools. It always goes a little something like this:
Education is underfunded in Arizona…
Teachers aren’t paid enough…
We need to raise taxes to pay our teachers more…
Do these lines sound familiar? They should. Anytime a new proposition is rolled out to voters, teachers’ unions and other liberals push this same narrative. We heard it when they campaigned for Prop 208 a couple years ago. And despite the fact that the Arizona Supreme Court struck down Prop 208 because Arizona is already funding schools at historic levels, we continue to hear it from Red4Ed and others as they target the state’s $1.8 billion tax cuts.
That’s what makes the latest news out of Mesa Public Schools (MPS) even more outrageous.
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.
It is well known that America’s schoolchildren are woefully ignorant of their national history and government. Majorities of young adults no longer feel grateful to be an American, undoubtedly because they fail to comprehend the precious freedoms to which they were born.
So are the teachers unions who educate our children concerned about this deplorable situation? Do they have a plan to correct it? You know the answer.
Instead, the National Education Association recently voted to ensure that all American school children are comprehensively taught Critical Race Theory. This is the unscientific notion that white people are inherently, incorrigibly racist and thus America’s foundational values were and are bigotry and racial oppression.
As the NEA puts it, “all K – 12 schools should teach children that White supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-indigenity, racism, patriarchy, capitalism, and anthropocentrism form the foundation of our society“. Furthermore “to deny opportunities to teach truth about Black, Brown and other marginal races minimizes the necessity for students to build efficacy.”
Not sure what that last means, but basically nobody is trying to prevent teaching about slavery, Jim Crow or the struggles racial minorities have faced. It should be balanced with the recognition that America has come a long way in correcting injustices and that there are boundless reasons to feel pride and love for our country.
The NEA means business. They’re allocating a $70,000 addition to normal operating funds to push CRT. More ominously, they are funding an “opposition research” effort meant to smear parents and organizations opposed to racist propagandizing of their children. Charming.
These same unions also spearheaded the effort to keep schools closed long after it was known that school children were neither the victims nor spreaders of serious Covid disease. They demanded political favors, like forcing private schools to also close and limiting new charter schools, as the ransom for their return to the work they were being paid to do. Some schools are not open even yet.
The results of their mulish selfishness are trickling in. It’s bad. Students in every grade are failing classes and falling behind.
Preliminary research suggests that students will return with less than 50% of normal learning gains in math and under 70% in other subjects. Since these are averages, disadvantaged and disabled learners will fare even worse. Catching up this much academically is difficult, if not impossible. It will take years, if ever, to undo the damage.
Meanwhile, our nation’s teachers’ unions are doubling down on the effort to turn public schools into centers for radical indoctrination. History is now taught as the ceaseless struggle between oppressors and victims. A substitution of “race” for “class“ is the only deviation from classical Marxist theory.
Students in biology are taught that gender is merely a social construct and that they are free to select theirs “don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” Math instruction is threatened by “social justice” warriors who deem requiring one correct answer and showing your work to be “white.“
Great literary works are being culled, and our history obliterated, for lack of adherence to modern standards of political correctness. Shakespeare and Steinbeck are among those facing permanent removal.
Some teachers are refusing to teach “To Kill a Mockingbird” because of racist language and the depiction of a “white savior.” That’s rich. Arguably the most influential anti-racist novel of modern times is shunned because Atticus is a decent white man who helps blacks and that doesn’t fit CRT’s malignant stereotypes.
In a few months, they’ve gone from claiming CRT isn’t taught in K-12 to insisting that instruction must be universal. Fortunately, grassroots and parent groups are waking up and fighting back. They should consider resisting not only objectionable courses of instruction, but the politicized education system that creates them.
Clear majorities, Including 75% to 85% of minority parents, favor charter schools and other forms of school choice. Yet there is stiff political resistance to reforms like Educational Savings Accounts, which empower parents. Arizona’s legislative Democrats this session voted unanimously to deny parents these options, thus denying them leverage in their dealings with unresponsive unions and schools.
So is public education meant to benefit the big people or the little people?
This was all supposed to be based on “science.” Or so claimed groups like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for over a year now. It was the rationale for the draconian lockdowns. It was the reasoning behind the overreaching mask mandates. And whenever the topic of schools reopening arose, we were told that students couldn’t return to in-person learning yet because “science.”
Then, on February 12, President Biden issued a statement declaring that opening most K-8 schools by the end of his first 100 days was a national imperative. That sounds good enough, but this announcement came with a catch. President Biden said that this could “only be achieved if Congress provides states and communities with the resources they need to get it done safely through the American Rescue Plan.”
But the president didn’t stop at shamelessly pushing his disastrous $1.9 trillion “COVID relief bill” that’s jam-packed with far-left policies unrelated to the pandemic. He went on to praise the CDC as providing “the best available scientific evidence on how to reopen schools safely.”