Arizona Implements Universal School Choice; Washington Should Follow Suit

A few weeks back, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed legislation making his state the first in the nation to codify universal school choice into law. The new law expands the state’s “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts,” which were established 2011 and originally applied only to children with special needs.

The traditional education model redirects taxpayer money to government schools. State schools and districts then decide how best to use the money. Instead of maintaining the failing status quo, Arizona will be allowing parents to take control of their money so that it may be used for the education that best meets their family’s needs.

The scholarship money can be spent on private education, online learning programs, tutoring, homeschool curricula, testing fees, and more. The average amount provided per student without disabilities is $5,700. That number increases to $19,000 for children with disabilities.

The enormity of this victory for Arizona students and families cannot be overstated. School choice is the single most important reform needed to improve primary education because, as we have discovered, the problem with education is not a shortage of money. From 1970 to 2010, federal education spending per student increased 375%. Over that same period, student achievement has remained entirely stagnant. Increasing funding will not fix the systemic inefficiencies and backward incentive structures that have led to failing schools across the country.

The traditional method of funding education, which entails transferring funds from government treasuries to government schools, does not work. Throwing money at the problem simply cements this deeply flawed structure into place. The systemic inefficiency and corruption has metastasized to the point that the system desperately needs to be reset. (For great investigative reporting on education system and teachers union corruption, watch the documentary The Cartel.)

Low-income students are most harmed by the current education system. Well-to-do families can afford to send their kids to private schools if their local public school isn’t up-to-par, but those without the necessary funds have no choice but to send their kid to a failing institution.

Not only does the quality of education suffer without competition, but the content is souring as public educators become bolder pushing leftist ideology on students. Secular humanism and progressive politics pervade every academic subject, and many parents with traditional values are worried their children’s schools are promoting values at odds with their family’s beliefs.

The answer to both the quality and content problems is very simple: Give education funding to families. Make schools compete for students by giving parents control over where education funding goes. Give the districts no choice but to increase the quality of the education and provide a balanced worldview. As parents use education money in ways that best serve their children, schools that don’t provide quality education will either improve or be replaced by schools that do.

In many areas of the country, including parts of Washington, students are locked into the school that serves their community. If the local public school is terrible, too bad. Unless you’re able to pay out-of-pocket for private school education, your kid will have to settle for a subpar government education and be left behind his or her peers attending better schools in other zip codes.

Giving parents the ability to customize their child’s education to the individual needs of their child should be a slam dunk bipartisan reform for the divided houses in Olympia. There’s no reason for the current top-down, one-size-fits-all education system to continue. Families should be allowed to use their own tax dollars to decide how their child gets educated and tailor that education to their child’s needs.

Forcing them to settle for whatever education the government provides, however terrible that education may be, is not only detrimental to both family and society but also deeply immoral. We cannot allow those opposing reforms to continue robbing students, especially low-income students in failing school districts, of their potential and of the quality education they deserve.

 

James Silberman is a guest contributor to the FPIW Blog. He is a pro-life activist from Gig Harbor, WA, and a student at Whitworth University.

A Teacher’s Perspective on School Choice (It’s Parental Choice)

The liberal media pounced on Betsy DeVos after her confirmation hearing last week, alleging that Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education is a radical Christian who supports “dismantling” public schools.

I teach at one of those private, for-profit, Christian schools that Democrats and their allies in the media are vilifying as one of the greatest threats to our nation’s youth and education system.

Although those opposed to DeVos’ nomination would like to convince you that private and charter schools are designed to serve only affluent whites, in reality, my school’s student body is majority-minority. Many of these kids come from broken homes on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

This isn’t as rare as the media would lead you to believe. Scholarships and voucher programs, whether privately or publicly funded, allow children to succeed in schools their families would otherwise have been unable to afford. In fact, empirical evidence overwhelmingly indicates that voucher programs improve racial integration in schools.

Many of my students were unable to achieve their full potential in their neighborhood public schools. Their parents were growing frustrated with what their schools were teaching, and were growing worried about their school’s culture of drugs, promiscuity, and insubordination.

In my experience, low-income and minority families who are given the opportunity to attend schools like the one where I teach are so thankful their kids are able to receive a quality education in a safe and edifying environment.

Some of my students have shared with me their experiences attending local public schools. One of my black students carried a gun with him to school as an early teenager to keep himself safe from gang activity. Drug dogs sweep the halls of local public high schools, which also sometimes use metal detectors to check students for weapons.

Apart from concerns about their children’s safety, many families also feel uneasy about the content of their children’s education. In Washington State, for example, schools are now teaching elementary school children that they can choose their gender. Sexual education curricula teach students to use methods of birth control many parents find morally objectionable. And some teachers, schools, and educational standards distort history and science to promote their pet political agendas.

Many of the most vocal critics of DeVos and the educational philosophy she represents contend that the very existence of private schools with different educational philosophies threatens public schools and our social order. These critics oppose any system of school choice that allows parents to choose the school they want to educate their children.

Contrary to the baseless claims of her critics, Betsy DeVos has never supported “dismantling” the public school system. Instead, she is simply working to ensure that those low- and middle-income families who find their local public school insufficient can have the same opportunities as wealthier families that are able pursue other means of education.

Providing more alternatives to public schools wouldn’t necessarily cause an exodus of children from public to private schools, nor would it require that public schools be “dismantled.”

If, in fact, most public schools offer an education superior to that of comparable private schools, families will decide to leave their kids in the public school to which they’ve been assigned. On the other hand, families who worry about their son or daughter attending public school would be able to move him or her to a school that better meets their needs and reflects their values.

No school or educational philosophy is perfect, and a one-size-fits-all system doesn’t really fit all families and students. That’s why choice is so necessary and important.

I’m especially thankful schools like the one at which I teach exist to provide families with an alternative to unsafe, failing schools that teach an educational philosophy antithetical to traditional Judeo-Christian values. Voucher programs like those supported by Betsy DeVos enable families to pursue whatever means of education works best for their children – and that’s something we should all celebrate.

 

Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and research fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.

Are We “Worthless Pieces of Trash”?

Colleges and universities are widely known to be hotbeds of liberal progressivism, but one public university administrator’s recent comments about supporters of traditional marriage are beyond the pale.

Andrew Bunting, George Mason University’s Senior Assistant Director of Admissions, shared his feelings about supporters of traditional marriage, calling them “worthless pieces of trash.”

The incident began last week when Bunting shared on Facebook a blog post written by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a grassroots organization that advocates for traditional marriage.

The blog post shares NOM’s desire to work with the Trump administration to protect religious liberty, nominate conservatives to the Supreme Court, overturn President Obama’s gender identity directives, and oppose efforts to redefine marriage.

Commenting on the blog post, Bunting parroted the Southern Poverty Law Center’s claim that NOM is a “hate group.”

He went on to write, “If you agree with [NOM about traditional marriage] then that is your opinion. Just know that to the rest of us, you are a worthless piece of trash.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a far-left political group known for designating as a hate group any organization that supports traditional marriage. According to SPLC, mainstream, pro-family organizations like the American Family Association, Family Research Council, and Liberty Counsel (Liberty University) are “extremist, anti-LGBT hate groups.”

Bunting’s comments reveal what Campus Reform has termed “liberal privilege” on college campuses. This “liberal privilege” on college campuses is evidenced by the way students who share conservative ideas are maligned and punished by professors and administrators, most of whom are radically progressive and many of whom are openly Marxist.

The groupthink on college campuses has gotten so bad that the conservative perspective often isn’t even shared with students. Conservative speakers are often disinvited from campus events, if they’re even invited at all. If conservatives do make it onto campus, they’re often verbally and physically abused by protesters comprised of students and faculty.

With college administrators like Bunting making incendiary comments disparaging half of the U.S. population, it’s no wonder that conservative students fear retaliation from liberal professors and administrators.

Additionally, given Bunting’s senior position in George Mason University’s admissions department, prospective students who happen to be conservative are probably left wondering whether they are welcome on campus, and if their political views will affect their admissions chances or opportunities for scholarships.

Bunting’s comments are even more troubling because GMU is a Virginia state public university. So far, it doesn’t look like he’ll be fired, despite his comments dehumanizing those who believe in traditional marriage.

Andrew Bunting’s views are representative of those held by college administrators in schools all over the country. Knowing that this is the predominant ideological perspective on most college campuses, it’s unsurprising that college students at the University of Washington and Seattle University say things like this and this.

Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and 2016 Research Fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.

Satanic Temple Infiltrates Tacoma Public School

The Satanic Temple’s efforts to infiltrate public schools seem to be making headway.

Point Defiance Elementary School, a public school in the Tacoma School District, has approved the Satanic Temple of Seattle’s request to start an “After School Satan Club” at the school. An informational meeting about the club will be held for parents, students, and teachers on December 14.

Point Defiance Elementary School’s decision to approve the “After School Satan Club” comes as Centennial Elementary School, a public school in Mount Vernon, WA, tries to decide how to respond to the Satanic Temple’s request to open a chapter at their school.

I’ve written before about the Satanic Temple’s attacks on “Good News Clubs,” an evangelical after school club that offers a forum for students who voluntarily want to learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Satanic Temple contends that it is unconstitutional for a school club to promote any religious belief. Responding to the success of “Good News Clubs” in schools across the country, the Satanic Temple has been targeting any school that allows a chapter of the evangelical club to meet after school by requesting that these schools also permit Satanic after school clubs. The implication, of course, is that schools open themselves up to legal liability if they refuse the request.

Obviously, the Satanic Temple’s argument is bunk. The constitutional framers and authors of the First Amendment wanted Christian morality to be taught in public schools. Moreover, in no way can the First Amendment be construed to prohibit voluntary after school clubs with a religious basis from operating in public schools.

The First Amendment does not give religious protections to secular political advocacy organizations like the Satanic Temple (Cavanaugh v. Bartelt, 2016). In the last several years, the Satanic Temple has garnered headlines for engaging in political stunts like distributing Satanic coloring books to elementary students, displaying Satanic nativity scenes on several state capitol grounds, and organizing “porn rooms.”

And while the Satanic Temple claims that it doesn’t literally worship Satan, its philosophy is permeated with radical self-exaltation and moral relativism, ideas usually associated with traditional Satanic thought. Its adherents, who rename themselves after demons and take part in nude rituals with overtly Satanic imagery, openly mock organized religion and attack the religious foundations of the American system of law in their effort to supplant our Judeo-Christian national heritage.

Schools shouldn’t be concerned about the Satanic Temple’s threats of litigation. Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty law firm, says it will provide pro-bono legal counsel to public schools that refuse the Satanic Temple’s request to start Satanic after school clubs. “School administrators do not have to tolerate groups that disrupt the school and target other legitimate clubs,” said Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel.

On the other hand, parents should be very concerned about the recent development that a local public school has given the green light to a Satanic club. Even most reasonable parents that don’t consider themselves overly religious would find the Satanic Temple’s promotion of promiscuity, self-exaltation, and rebellion against authority utterly distasteful. Parents of students in the Tacoma and Mount Vernon school districts should call and email their school officials and ask them to deny the Satanic Temple’s requests to open these clubs.

Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and 2016 Research Fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.

Take action by sharing your concerns with your school and school district:

Point Defiance Elementary School

Phone: 253-571-6900

Email: lboyd2@tacoma.k12.wa.us

Tacoma Public School District

Phone: 253-571-1000

Email: info@tacoma.k12.wa.us

Centennial Elementary School

Phone: 360-428-6138

Email: tjensen@mvsd320.org

Mount Vernon School District

Phone: 360-428-6110

Email: cbruner@mv.k12.wa.us