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Desire for school choice grows during pandemic | Opinion

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As we approach the two-year mark of the pandemic, millions of parents across the country have learned that they desire more and better options when it comes to their child’s education.

It was bad enough that public school students in our home school districts of Minneapolis and St. Paul suffered through distance learning for almost all of the 2020-21 school year. This month the omicron variant sent students home for remote learning in more than a dozen Twin Cities school districts.

We strongly believe that if we genuinely care about our children in America, then we need to offer each one of them a very high-quality education that meets the needs of students and parents. That opportunity can be found in public, private, or charter schools. The critical factor is that each family deserves a meaningful opportunity to select the school of their choice.

With that selection, we support having federal and state funding follow that child to their chosen school. Competition is essential as we seek to improve schools across the board. Schools that provide children with a high-quality education along with demonstrated results, academically and behaviorally, will prosper.

Two key aspects here are “standards” and “expectations.” From our viewpoint, it is clear what is happening in our society today. We have seen far too much “dumbing down” academically and behaviorally in our schools. Unfortunately, it’s the adults who are doing this to our children. It does not need to happen, and it absolutely should not be happening.

Don’t misunderstand what we are saying: Teachers in all types of schools do incredible, important work, and we know they’re working hard under difficult circumstances. This is about providing opportunities for everyone in our schools to find the best fit for them.

Even before the pandemic, schools were failing Black children like ours, and the achievement gap tells the story: 66% of white students in Minnesota were proficient in reading. For Black students it was 34%. In math the gap was even larger – 64% of white students were proficient compared with 26% of Black students.

Without question, the pandemic has worsened that achievement gap. Students who were already struggling are falling further behind.

Moving towards greater school choice will have positive benefits. A recent study from the University of Arkansas suggests that “the more a state provides parents with the freedom to choose their child’s school, the better the state’s students score” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, writes co-author Patrick Wolf.

Nearly two-thirds of voters support school choice, according to a survey by the advocacy group American Federation for Children. Support is even higher among African Americans and Latinos, at 74% and 71%, respectively. Parents of school-age children support school choice, too, 65% to 27%.

Families across the country made moves last year to find educational options that worked best for their kids as they tried their best to navigate the pandemic. The robust growth in charter school, homeschool, and private school attendance last year showed parents want — and students need — educational options. But those options are out-of-reach for far too many families.

Policymakers need to take note of how parents and students voted with their feet. Rather than focusing on just the traditional system, they should encourage the growth of school choice. During this crisis, school choice has been especially vital for people who are low-income and stuck in schools that are failing them.

Our message to Minnesota lawmakers this National School Choice Week 2022 is simple: We need school choice now more than ever. Let’s move forward strongly to help more families access schools that best meet their needs.

This commentary was submitted on behalf of the authors by Park Street Public, working with National School Choice Week.

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Ebony Young
Ebony Young

Ebony Young is a parent of a student in St. Paul Public Schools.

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Tiffini Flynn Forslund
Tiffini Flynn Forslund

Tiffini Flynn Forslund is a parent of a student in Minneapolis Public Schools.

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