As Teachers Unions and Bureaucrats Battle, Families Choose Alternative Schools
As part of his big-bucks pandemic relief package, President Joe Biden proposes $130 billion dollars to reopen public K-12 schools. It’s an impressive figure when you consider that annual federal funds to government schools in recent years has been around $60 billion, with the vast majority of school money coming from state and local sources. But much opposition to opening schools for in-person instruction comes from teachers unions fighting to draw pay while kids languish with substandard remote offerings. That makes the money look like a bribe to the administration-linked labor bloc to get it to live up to the example of competing education options.
This School Choice Week, let’s compare the government schools with those alternatives.
“The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, and the students and parents they serve,” Biden argued in his American Rescue Plan, released before his inauguration. “The president-elect’s plan will provide $130 billion to support schools in safely reopening,” it added, leading into a list of potential purchases with the truly vast sum of money.
But the offer to make schools safer comes months after data from Europe and the United States indicates that schools aren’t hot beds of infection. “Two new international studies show no consistent relationship between in-person K-12 schooling and the spread of the coronavirus,” Anya Kamenetz noted for NPR last October.
“The best available data suggests that infection rates in schools simply mirror the prevalence of covid-19 in the surrounding community,” Emily Oster, a Brown University economics professor, wrote in November.
“The default position should be to try as best as possible within reason to keep the children in school or to get them back to school,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, commented on November 29. While Fauci has flip-flopped on this issue, he repeatedly returns to the idea that schools should be open to teach children.
Nevertheless, many government schools across the country remain closed or only intermittently open. That’s largely a result of opposition by teachers unions, who raise bogus safety fears. Even now, unions in Minneapolis and St. Paul resist reopening and the union in Chicago plans to strike over the issue.
And while bureaucrats and union leaders clash over whether the schools they mismanage should make any sort of effort to serve students, those kids are backsliding. The effects aren’t yet catastrophic, but test scores show children losing ground—especially in math.
While public school have never been very flexible or responsive to family needs and have a reputation for underachieving, their nearly complete failure to adapt to the pandemic has driven students to the exits. “Public school enrollment is down across the country,” Taryn Morrissey, associate professor of public administration and policy at American University School of Public Affairs, observed earlier this month. “For example, enrollment dropped by 15,000 in Chicago public schools and more than 20,000 for the District of Columbia.”
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