Stakeholders make case for education choice

Stakeholders make case for education choice
As students shift toward remote learning due to COVID-19, some education experts say it’s time to create more flexible learning options. Photo: freepik.com

Washington schools have remained closed for more than a month due to the COVID-19 outbreak, forcing teachers to rely on online and other methods of alternative instruction. With the possibility that remote learning could extend into the new school year this fall, some education experts and state lawmakers say it’s time to look at further expanding learning options for students.

“(It) shouldn’t take a pandemic to recognize that a-one-size-fits-all system isn’t going to deliver the best results for every student,” Washington Policy Center (WPC) Education Director Liv Finne said during the organization’s April 15 virtual summit.

For some, Washington’s basic education system has made improvements since the 2012 State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which concluded the state was failing to fully fund K-12 education. The state now spends $12 billion more per biennium on basic education than it did in 2013-15; high school graduation rates have slightly increased while student academic performance has declined since 2012.

In the short-term, Finne says the state should allocate money normally spent on public school operations instead to parents in the form of $2,000 per-child stipends to help cover home-learning costs.

Also, Rep. Vicki Kraft (R-17) said during the virtual summit that in the long-term “more options are absolutely needed. There’s different styles of learning. Some are visual learners, some are auditory learners…so when you have a one-size-fits-all K-12 model today in many cases, that just doesn’t work for all students.”

During this year’s legislative session, Kraft sponsored HB 2933, which would have created an education choice scholarship program parents could apply for. Under the program, the education money allocated to a child in a public school could instead be used to attend a private school or fund home-based learning.

“It gives them real choice to look at other formats that may actually be better…(for) their child to learn,” Kraft said. “As I sat on the Education Committee…here over the past year I heard from students’ parents saying: ‘you know, my child isn’t learning in a traditional classroom.’”

While Kraft’s bill never received a public hearing in the Education Committee, SB 5395 cleared the legislature after intense debate and controversy; that bill mandates sex education be taught at all levels, including kindergarten.

Kraft said bills like that have been “challenging for parents in the sense that they felt…their voice was not being heard and listened to by educators.”

Although charter schools were permitted through bipartisan legislation during the 2016 session, the state legislature since then has opposed new funding to those schools. As a result, several have since closed.

The disconnect perhaps reflects fundamentally different philosophies regarding the parent-child relationship. On one end are those who say homeschooling should be banned. Harvard University is hosting a private, invitation-only event June intended to highlight the “problems of educational deprivation” with homeschooling. Among the featured speakers is law professor James Dwyer, who has argued that “the reason parent-child relationships exist is because the State confers legal parenthood.”

On the other end are those like Finne, who say choice offers flexibility to meet the needs of children as individuals, and that “parents, not government officials, have the moral right to direct the education of their children.” She points to states such as Florida that offer five school choice programs.  Florida’s high school graduation rate is now at 86.9 percent.

“Nobody – whether it’s the school union or a teacher or administrator – no one should be threatened by options,” Kraft said in advocating for expanding education options.

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