The Wall Street Journal:
The 2020 Republican convention focused on issues in a way that the Democratic parley did not. Perhaps most striking was the impassioned—and repeated—demand for school choice. No convention had ever featured speaker after speaker who promoted choice in human and moral terms.
Like the virtual convention format, this owes something to Covid-19. As parents, teachers, principals and students have adapted to the pandemic, too many traditional public schools have been far less nimble in serving students than have charters, private and religious schools. Many parents are realizing this won’t change as long as funding is tied to buildings and bureaucracies rather than students.
Americans are also realizing that much of this is because the big school decisions are made by teachers unions. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot had planned to reopen classrooms until the Chicago Teachers Union threatened a strike, and now that’s been put off until at least November. In Maryland a health officer twice ordered private and religious schools closed, lest they embarrass their public counterparts.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says reopening schools is itself a matter of public health because the harm to keeping children out of the classroom is “well-known and significant.” The CDC adds that keeping schools closed “disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities” because their parents lack the resources to switch to a private school, hire a tutor, or even sign up for after-school programs.
All of this has been eye-opening for parents whose options are limited by the status quo. Having to monitor remote learning, parents are also discovering the woke political bias that passes for education in too many schools. In Philadelphia, a public school teacher tweeted his concern that “‘conservative’ parents” listening in “are my chief concern.”
The GOP convention hit all of this from multiple angles. Tera Myers expressed gratitude for an Ohio scholarship program that allowed her to find a school that works for her son, Samuel, who has Down syndrome.
Rebecca Friedrich, a long-time California public school teacher, spoke of her battle with unions that force teachers to pay dues to finance causes they don’t agree with. Like other speakers, she zeroed in on the human costs, noting that the teachers unions spend “hundreds of millions annually to defeat charter schools and school choice, trapping so many precious, low-income children in dangerous, corrupt and low-performing schools.”
The demand for more choice was particularly strong among the black speakers. “We want school choice,” said Kim Klacik, the Republican running for the Baltimore seat of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings. “For the sake of our children,” said former NFL star Jack Brewer, we can’t allow concerns about President’s “tone” to “allow Biden and Harris to deny underserved black and brown children [their] school of choice.”
Studies have shown that choice causes public schools to improve. In Washington, D.C., where about 44,000 low-income kids are enrolled in charter schools and 1,800 receive private school vouchers, the share of fourth-graders and eighth-graders who scored proficient in math last year on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams doubled from 2009. Incredibly for a man whose sons attended Catholic Archmere Academy in Delaware, Joe Biden wants to eliminate the D.C. scholarship program.
Mississippi has shown the largest learning gains in the country since establishing education-savings accounts in 2015. These accounts let parents purchase private educational services. The achievement gap since 2015 has fallen by half between whites and Hispanics and 15% between whites and blacks.
A new University of Arkansas study that looked at the pioneering Milwaukee Parental Choice Program found that students in the program were 53% less likely to commit drug crimes and 86% less likely to commit property crimes than peers in public schools. Private schools can enforce discipline and teach moral values without fear of political complications.
Whatever the moral and substantive case, Republicans wouldn’t pitch this at a convention if they didn’t think education choice has political salience. The issue’s potential potency has increased as Democrats have moved away from their former support for charter schools or any school choice under the sway of teachers unions. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis showed the power of the issue to attract black voters in 2018, and now the Trump campaign is betting on it.
Nothing matters more to social justice than educational opportunity, and too many public schools fail to provide it. School choice is the real civil-rights issue of our time, and the GOP deserves credit for making it a marquee part of its 2020 agenda.