- - Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Overnight in the early spring of 2020, the curtain was thrown back as COVID-19 inducted remote school sessions, providing parents an unrestricted view into their children’s classrooms. What they witnessed was shocking, and it triggered a historic nationwide parent inquiry that turned into an uprising.

Since then, K-12 education has been in the public eye daily. Before looking ahead to what 2023 will bring, it’s worth pausing to reflect on what has happened over the almost past three years.

Left-wing agendas dominated teacher training, curriculum, classroom instruction and school policies. This fanned the flames of parental outrage already stoked by witnessing the consistent lack of quality academic learning.

Anger fumed as teachers unions led the charge to keep schools closed far longer than necessary, then drove the obsessive masking of students and staff and, in some cases, enforced vaccine mandates as employment and attendance requirements.

Attendance began to soar at school board meetings nationwide and even drew media coverage. Those who spoke out were treated as hostile enemies, even “domestic terrorists,” instead of tax-paying customers who are the legal authorities of their children.

Far from being responsive to parental concerns, teachers — led by the leftist school boards and administrators along with all-powerful teachers union bosses — doubled down on their woke indoctrination and the diluting of academic standards and learning, all in the name of “equity.”

Consequently, many families departed. And not surprisingly, they haven’t returned, and others have continued to join them in the K-12 public school exodus.

Of course, it hasn’t only been students cutting ties with public schools. Teachers and staff members are also running out the door at record numbers — some through early retirement, while others started their own microschools, provided private tutoring, or left the education profession altogether. Others may follow their lead to escape the schoolhouse as they observe the advantages of controlling their professional pathway by leveraging their expertise with hard work and ingenuity.

A public examination of the monster industry that has controlled American K-12 education for decades was long overdue. And its response of further tightening its death grip on the hearts and minds of our children will undoubtedly drive parents who are able to break their children free.

When enough families flee K-12 public schools in the coming years, union power will be weakened, and the system’s astronomical funding will take a hit. Progress is underway. Considered the school choice breakthrough year, 2021 had seven new and 21 expanded educational choice programs in 18 states. Then, in July 2022, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed HB 2853 into law, granting school choice to the state’s more than 1.1 million K-12 students.

This powerful path to reform hits the teachers unions where it counts — their coffers. Losing a significant percentage of students hurts their bottom line. Money talks, and in the case of bureaucrats and union bosses, nothing speaks louder. But don’t count on the teachers unions to give up their power without a fight.

So, with the battle raging, will the coming year be bright or bleak for K-12 education freedom? Time will tell, but one thing is sure: It will be a wild year ahead.

Without question, bureaucracy, leftist politicians and teachers unions will push an increasingly radical agenda on our impressionable children in K-12 schools with unrelenting resolve. And as they do, more families will want to flee. It’s a tug-of-war with those on the side of the system leveraging their political power to block any effort to empower parents with choices for their children outside of the union-controlled traditional public school. And on the other side, parents, education freedom reformers, and a growing number of engaged conservatives will be fighting for just that — educational freedom for families.

The November tweet by the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country, and response by former U.S. Secretary of Education and educational freedom champion, Betsy DeVos, sums up the fight between the union and parents for control over children. The NEA tweeted: “Educators love their students and know better than anyone what they need to learn and to thrive.” Mrs. DeVos responded: “You misspelled parents.”

In the coming year, it will be essential that momentum is not lost in the movement on behalf of parent empowerment. Simply put, until universal school choice expands nationwide, families need help getting out.

Consider if you can help a neighbor make home schooling a reality, offer your expertise as a volunteer tutor to a learning pod, or provide financial resources toward private school tuition. Could you start a low-cost microschool in your home, create an innovative new school model, or invest in educational entrepreneurs working outside the public system to bring families more school choices? Opportunities to make a positive difference abound.

• Keri D. Ingraham is a fellow at Discovery Institute and director of the institute’s American Center for Transforming Education.

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