📷: U.S. Department of Education / Flickr
Stephanie Lundquist-Arora | January 5, 2024
(The Federalist) — In 2023, 20 states expanded school choice options for America’s children. Perhaps these substantial legislative gains are what prompted Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, to have a meltdown last month and argue that school choice “undermines democracy.” Weingarten gaslights the public because her quest to make failing public schools the only educational option for America’s children is truly what threatens self-government.
The founders of our nation agreed that an educated citizenry is essential to self-rule. Thomas Jefferson, for example, argued that the consent of the governed is only possible with an educated population. To that end, the founders advocated for a public education system in which the government funds the education of its young citizens.
According to our nation’s founders, the purpose of government-funded education is to provide our children with a quality education, not to preserve power for teachers unions. When traditional K-12 public education fails to properly educate our children, which is the case now, public dollars must follow the students, not the failing institutions. Given that a poorly educated citizenry arguably is not properly equipped to offer its consent, evidenced in part by the required citizenship test for newcomers, public education’s politicization and lower test scores and standards are harmful to our “democracy.”
Consequences of Weingarten’s Priorities
Weingarten used her platform to advocate for prolonged school closures during the pandemic. In April 2020, her union’s demands in order to “safely reopen America’s schools” included the forgiveness of teachers’ educational loan debt and the suspension of teacher performance evaluations — demands that had absolutely nothing to do with public health. Weingarten, who at that time enjoyed an annual income of $564,236, essentially held our schools hostage for more than a year to increase the power of teachers and her union.
School closures didn’t need to last one-and-a-half years as they did in many districts across the United States. In Sweden and Denmark, for example, students missed very little in-person school days and are not suffering from the learning loss that is drowning American children.
Many private schools in America did not close during the pandemic. Instead, they prioritized their students. That is another reason we need to expand access and options for our children. Weingarten used the word “privatizing” in her comments last month as a scare tactic to imply that with more educational choice, public funding is eliminated, and the poor will suffer. School choice advocates, however, are not pushing for privatizing education. Rather, we argue that children are better served with public funds when the money follows the students. In fact, prolonged school closures and declining standards in public education most significantly affect America’s low-income children. Not only are public schools dumbing down our children, but they have also exacerbated economic inequalities with prolonged closures.