The fact that a new school year is beginning after a year of pandemic shutdowns is undoubtedly a cause for celebration. But at the same time, the last thing America needs is a return to “normal” in our public school classrooms.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a stress test on public education that revealed fundamental flaws in the system that are deep, lasting, and likely to get worse.
Over the past year, Americans have seen teachers’ unions and education bureaucrats leverage the pandemic to score political victories and extort more money from taxpayers while lobbying to keep schools closed counter to CDC guidance. These efforts needlessly exacerbated and prolonged hardship for millions of students and families.
At the same time, online learning has allowed parents to peek into their child’s virtual classroom, where for the first time, they can see and hear everything their children are being taught. As a result, many parents are now rightly concerned that the primary mission of many public schools is no longer to educate America’s youth but to indoctrinate them with a radical left-wing political ideology.
The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the growing wokeness epidemic, created a perfect storm in America’s classrooms – forcing countless American families to flee in search of shelter elsewhere. The Census Bureau reports that homeschooling has tripled.
Likewise, many private schools have seen enrollment surge to record levels.
As millions of Americans have opened their eyes to the pervasive problems in public education, they have also opened their minds to new solutions. If ever there was a time for conservatives to make big, bold, and sweeping changes to public education, that time is now.
Many states are seizing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by expanding school choice and moving towards child-centered funding models for education. This is exactly how taxpayers fund other education programs, like Pell Grants for college students – the money goes to the student, and the student chooses which college to attend.
However, some states like Maine have limited choice by unconstitutionally excluding religious schools from taxpayer-funded tuition assistance programs. Such bans not only discriminate against religious families and schools but are also particularly devastating to parents of modest means who are denied the ability to provide their children the education that is best suited to their needs. That is why the conservative advocacy group I founded, Advancing American Freedom, filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to end state-sponsored discrimination against religious schools.
Our goal is to ensure that every child has access to the very best education possible – whether public, private, religious, or homeschool – regardless of how they worship, where they live, or how much money their parents earn.
Child-centered funding of education has never been more critical. During the pandemic shutdowns, wealthy families had the ability to bail out of public schools immediately and enroll in private schools that continued to hold in-person classes. But the vast majority of middle-class families and the working poor were left behind. True school choice can eliminate this gaping inequality in our society.
School choice also allows every family to escape the suffocating political indoctrination that has become all too common in our public schools, where science, history, and even math are increasingly taught through the lens of racial grievance, and children are taught to be ashamed of the color of their skin. School choice stops liberals from using our tax dollars to fill the minds of our nation’s youth with poisonous anti-American lies.
As a father and as the proud husband of a schoolteacher, I know the immense power of education to transform a child’s life. Decisions about a child’s education can have lifelong ramifications. They should be made not by bureaucrats, formulas, income, or zip code – but by parents. When every parent has a choice, every student has a chance.
• Former Vice President Mike Pence is the founder of Advancing American Freedom and a Young America’s Foundation Ronald Reagan Presidential Scholar.