America’s confidence in its public schools is sagging to historic lows. The pandemic revealed a system that is ill-prepared to teach students and — even worse — a desire to not return to school buildings. When children did finally return to the classroom, masking mandates proved to be a struggle. Unfortunately, this struggle continues, as some of America’s largest school districts have resorted to masking once again during the upcoming start of the school year.
All of this has led to a breakdown in trust between families and public school districts. A recent Gallup poll revealed only 28% of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in public schools, the second lowest level on record. Like our country, much of the polling data shows a sharp division between Republicans and Democrats. Republican support has plunged, while Democrat support has dipped five points. In a bad sign for districts, approval from Independents has dropped nine points.
This should be the moment our government leaders and school districts looked inward to solve this crisis.
It never happened. It still hasn’t.
What did happen?
The Biden administration went after public charter schools. You know — the schools that actually kept teaching during the pandemic, while districts fumbled and ultimately failed our children. President Biden did this by enacting new Charter Schools Program rules that attempt to federalize charter schools and bog them down in bureaucratic, cumbersome rules designed to restrict growth.
This was a wake-up call to the 3 million American families who believe in charter schools — and many more who already were frustrated with their school districts. It also should be a signal to Congress and state legislatures that action must be taken to blunt this misguided attempt to limit school choice.
It should alarm everyone that rather than work to address the pandemic failures of school districts, Mr. Biden went after the schools that compete with them for students. Not surprisingly, charters are seen as a threat to the deep-pocketed special interests that have long supported the president — teachers unions. Only in public education is competition seen as a bad thing.
Public charter schools should have the opportunity to open wherever they’re needed, but the Biden administration has built roadblocks designed to prevent the opening of more schools. They do so by saying charters are not held accountable, which is the height of hypocrisy.
Traditional public schools have received billions in pandemic recovery dollars on top of what they already receive annually through state budgets — without any strings attached. Not millions of dollars, billions of dollars. Those are our tax dollars.
Meanwhile, charter schools are held strictly accountable by states. In fact, they can be closed unless their charters are renewed. To be renewed, they must submit voluminous reports that outline student progress and plans for the future. Even better, parents like me can pull our children if we don’t see continued improvement. What a wonderful concept: parents choosing schools they deem best for their children and holding them accountable with their tax dollars.
Unfortunately, not all families can do this when politicians work to stymie public school choices in order to keep the money funnel moving to districts, even those with a history of failing generations of children. For poor rural and urban families, private schools aren’t possible, either. Just imagine knowing that your children attend a failing school, and you can’t do anything about it because you can’t afford to send them elsewhere. And worse, your government is actively preventing you from sending them to a better public school, in this case, a charter school.
This politicization of our public education system in America must stop. It can if leaders like our president start putting our children first. That means allowing parents to decide what public schools are the best for their children, and not taking draconian measures to destroy their options.
Until that happens, it’s on Congress to take action and stop Mr. Biden. The president doesn’t know what’s best for my children. I do.
• Letrisha Weber is the president of the National Coalition for Public School Options. For more information, see publicschooloptions.org.
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