Give parents choice instead of Covid-era edicts as schools reopen
By Wayne Hoffman
Parents have the right to decide how their kids are educated, and that includes decisions about masks, online courses, vaccines, Covid-testing, social distancing, or any other virus mitigation measures that might be part of the equation. It is, frankly, insulting and off-putting to watch as Idaho school and health officials issue edicts in an effort to safeguard the status quo of the government-run education system without consideration to the individuals on the receiving end of the decision.
Of course, the alphabet soup of education special interests — labor unions, school boards associations, and other groups hostile to innovation — argue they’re just trying to implement safety measures that allow schools to reopen without spreading Covid-19. And there is some level of truth to that. But in all honesty, the bigger, unspoken prize of an open school is that taxpayer money keeps flowing to school districts, which keeps the money pouring into special interests. If that means making squirmy five-year-olds sit with their tiny noses and mouths encased in coverings all day, or creating in-person and online attendance schedules that work really well for the system but not so much for the parents, that’s what the special interests will order up.
Why should students be denied the right to learn in a manner that best suits them? Why do bureaucrats and politicians get more say than moms and dads, especially now? And really, is maintenance of the existing system the best we can do for teachers who might have their own health concerns? Why not use this as the moment of a lifetime to truly improve and modernize schooling?
Across the country, families are opting to continue the homeschool experience they started in March and April. But others have begun working together to recruit teachers who then work with small groups of students. These “learning pods” and “micro schools” offer many benefits. Students can receive instruction from professional educators. Students and parents can be free of the public-school system’s monolithic Covid-19 response plan. And, parents who want to choose a non-public school option that’s akin to a homeschool can, even if they have neither the time nor the skills to do so.
The above option is not for everyone, and not all parents have the means to participate. It’s one of the reasons that some states look to deploy emergency education savings accounts, allowing parents to shop for education services that best meets their needs without breaking the bank. South Carolina is in the middle of launching that kind of arrangement, providing funding so that parents can consider a wide array of schooling alternatives.
Idaho can encourage these and other Covid-era schooling innovations to flourish, and there are a number of compelling ways to do it. Idaho could provide emergency funds to directly pay micro school or learning pod teachers. Additionally, the state could fashion emergency Education Savings Accounts — pre-loaded debit cards that could be used to hire teachers, tutors, and to buy supplies.
Such new options can also benefit teachers. Professional educators can garner greater connection with students and parents. It can also mean greater autonomy for teachers who no longer find themselves at the mercy of a school bureaucracy. Another side benefit, lacking all the usual overhead of a government school, is student-centric schooling potentially means more money being available to pay great teachers for their excellent work.
It’s time to get creative when it comes to the future of schooling. It’s not enough to simply order kids into masks, move schedules around, and throw in some digital learning. Let’s give the power back to the parents, so that they can give their kids the education they need and deserve, instead of a one-sized approach that is a fig leaf for the preservation of the existing system.
Wayne Hoffman is president of Idaho Freedom Foundation