- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many U.S. vulnerabilities, from dependence on China for health and medical raw material to such major industries as movies, clothing and household items.

Add another — this one made in America: one-size-fits-all public education from 0 months to 12th grade.

As the 2020-21 school year emerges, parents are learning more than a thing or two, including the fact that their tax dollars have been supporting a status quo that failed to prepare faculty and IT experts for teaching and learning outside of traditional classrooms.

The coronavirus, in fact, also has led to school systems uncovering shortages of principals and teachers, bus drivers, janitorial and feeding staff, librarians and administrators.

Substitute teachers are in demand but in short supply, and one major reason is that collective bargaining agreements demand that even substitute teachers be certified. This despite the fact that certification does not guarantee a good or “highly qualified” teacher.

With most public school facilities shut tight since mid-March due to COVID-19, parents — as all U.S. taxpayers — still financially support public education, and the National Education Association claims it does as well. Yet its version of support is biased.

The NEA opposes parental choice, home schooling, private and religious schooling, public charter schools, vouchers and education savings accounts. Indeed, it supports the pre-Brown v. Board of Education practice of ensuring that public education dollars do not follow all students into all of their classrooms.

The NEA also opposes anything that resembles competition.

Question my synopsis?

Sit back and read a July 2 press release that comes straight from the horse’s mouth — that is, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, a sixth-grade teacher and NEA president:

“President Donald Trump has made known his intention to pursue a $5 billion voucher program in the next COVID-19 relief package. The following statement can be attributed to Lily Eskelsen Garcia, a sixth grade school teacher who serves as president of the 3-million member National Education Association.

“Betsy DeVos unsuccessfully has pushed an agenda to privatize public education by any means necessary since she was confirmed as Secretary of Education, including by using the coronavirus pandemic to funnel funds from public schools to wealthy private schools. Today’s announcement that the Trump administration is pursuing a $5 billion voucher program in the next COVID-19 relief package is just the latest move in their mission. DeVos celebrated the [U.S.] Supreme Court’s decision this week in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, in which Trump appointees joined the far-right effort to undermine public schools — one of our country’s most cherished democratic institutions — by removing state constitutional protections against school vouchers. And now DeVos and Trump are asking Congress to fund dollar-for-dollar tax credits for businesses to fund school vouchers, even after these businesses have just received billions of dollars in relief funding. This is a direct assault on our nation’s children.

“It should escape no one’s attention that vouchers all too frequently have been used to further segregation and promote discrimination. The historical origins of vouchers come out of a Virginia county shutting down its public schools and opening white academies to avoid adhering to Brown v. Board of Education. That the Trump administration is oblivious to that history is particularly evident given their attempt to wrap their privatization initiative in the rhetoric of civil rights. We, of course, realize that this administration never understands the history of civil rights in America — before or today — but to rehash DeVos’s privatization proposal on the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a day after Trump made disparaging comments about a Black Lives Matter sign in New York City is beyond the pale. Their actions are shameless, hurtful and deeply offensive, and Congress should rightly reject their proposal.

“Private schools by their nature are exclusive, and virtually all of them exclude certain students for one reason or another. The vast majority of private schools — both religious and non-religious — require entrance exams or other pre-admissions screening, and they reserve the right to refuse students based on academic ability or disciplinary history, regardless of whether the applicant has a ‘disability.’ Private schools routinely refuse to serve students with disabilities or special needs. Private religious schools, which represent up to 95 percent of voucher enrollment, either refuse to admit students of different religions or grant special admissions privileges to students of the same religion as the school. That’s not to mention how some religious private schools have discriminated against or terrorized LGBTQ students. A recent investigative report by the Huffington Post showed that private schools receiving voucher money were continuing with controversial, debunked and dangerous conversion therapy.

“Students have a civil right to a public education free from discrimination. What the Trump administration is proposing will cause a ripple of long-term residual effects that will be felt by generations. These acts create the conditions that undermine the principles of religious liberty. And DeVos is forcing taxpayers to be complicit in her crusade to fund discrimination through these voucher schemes.”

All that may be true, but it is also a smoke screen, because the coronavirus has exposed the long-hidden problem of America’s one-size-fits-all public education: serious competition.

Parents of public school children aren’t snapping at the Trump administration about funding for school buildings in the next stimulus package. Parents are crying out for funding for more choice for their families — not more smoke screens.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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