Rep. Vicki Kraft: Give parents options to decide the best education for their children
It's been a very difficult year as we've had to address new hardships, including the closing of businesses, public gathering places and public schools. We have had to adapt to an unprecedented way of life with social distancing. More people are working from home than ever before. And most school children are at home adapting to online classes and a new remote schooling model.
Given these events, now is the perfect time to discuss providing parents additional educational choices for their children. Parents should be able to use K-12 funding, that would normally follow their child to a public school, to continue home-based learning for their children in the form of homeschooling or allowing them to attend a private school.
Before the 2021 session in January, I will pre-file legislation to give parents the power to decide the best education for their children in Washington state. It will build upon House Bill 2933, a measure I introduced last year that proposed the Education Choice Scholarship Program. Under this program, the education money allocated to a child in a public school (about $12,000) could instead be used by the parent for a private school or homeschooling instruction of their choice.
Many parents are frustrated with the teachings of public schools and curricula, such as the new sex education mandate and new vaccination requirements, do not reflect their values. This year, more than 32,000 Washington families have already pulled out of the public-school system as they find that traditional zip-code assigned schools are simply not working for their children. A recent poll by the American Federation of Children shows 40% of parents are more likely to pursue homeschooling or online school after the COVID lockdown ends.
Some children are visual learners, and some are auditory. The problem is parents and kids are locked into a one-size-fits-all K-12 system in Washington that doesn't work for all students and is not delivering the best results – especially in the current remote learning format. Isn't that what we want for our kids – the highest quality education possible?
The time has come to look at new and better ways to help our children get the best education possible. Many states are heading in this direction. In fact, more than 30 states, including Arizona, Florida, and Indiana, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, offer school choice options, such as school vouchers, tax credit scholarships or education savings accounts, to help parents pay tuition at private schools.
No one knows better than parents what is best for their children. Parents are also taxpayers. Therefore, it makes sense they should be able to use the same funding that would follow their student to a public school for an education at a private school or for homeschool learning. Parents should be able to decide how and where their children are educated – not government or teachers' unions who have vehemently opposed parental school choice options.
The U.S. Supreme Court also ruled this past June (Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue) that families can use tax credit scholarships to send their children to private religious schools. The decision reaffirms the constitutionality of school choice programs and provides hope for parents who want to use public funds to send their children to a better school.
And why shouldn't they be allowed to do that? If the student who uses public dollars is getting a quality education in a private school or homeschool learning, and they are doing better in this format than in a public-school setting, why wouldn't we all encourage this? The teachers' unions may not welcome this, but if the public education system is really a good option for kids, it seems logical that adding other choices should prove the merits of that option – and create healthy competition that would improve education in every venue.
Nobody should feel threatened by education options. The alarms sounded by teachers' unions that charter schools in Washington would threaten public schools never materialized after the Legislature allowed them. Instead, charter schools simply offered more flexibility to meet the needs of various children. Ideally, all education options would benefit through school choice scholarship options and would get better as a result – like an education free-market scenario. All education tides would rise as parents make the best schooling choices for their children.
This COVID shutdown has shown us that homeschooling can be a viable educational option for our children when it's on parents' terms, along with other educational choices. It's time to look outside of the box when it comes to making sure every student has the highest quality education possible. Parents and students deserve the ability to decide for themselves. It's time the Legislature enacts school choice legislation!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-Vancouver, represents the 17th Legislative District, and serves on the House Appropriations Committee.