What The Recent Teacher Strikes Say About School Choice

Rachel Tripp | Freelance writer

In Oklahoma, over 500,000 students are out of school while teachers from over 172 school districts march on the state capitol to demand higher salaries and increased funding for public schools statewide. The Oklahoma Education Association, which has over 40,000 members, is seeking more than $800 million in additional funding. The strike began as planned on April 2, and forty-eight districts plan to strike indefinitely until a deal can be reached.

This strike is just the latest in a string of similar instances that have sprung up in the last month. The West Virginia teacher strike, which forced the closure of public schools across the state and left over 277,000 students out of school, dominated headlines in March as teachers in 55 counties demanded higher salaries.The success of that strike and its resulting 5 percent pay increase has inspired similar movements across the country. Along with Oklahoma, teachers in Kentucky and Arizona are also executing their own rallies and walkouts in hopes of the similar results.

While these efforts have raised awareness around the way we value and compensate our public school teachers, it also brings to light several flaws that are part of a much larger, broken system, in which tax-funded teachers’ unions hold a complete and self-serving power that fails to consider the needs of the students and parents affected by these actions. Across the nation, thousands of parents are searching for ways to be in control of their child’s education.

Getting a comprehensive education is the first step towards success for any child. However in many areas the only available options are public schools that are unsafe, poorly funded, or staffed by tenured, ineffective teachers whose union backing makes them nearly impossible to fire, and therefore unaccountable for their unsuccessful teaching methods. These conditions leave good-intentioned educators in the challenging position of trying to succeed in environments that are not equipped to provide students with the resources necessary to excel. Although there are also many excellent public schools with effective teachers and plentiful resources, very few are equipped to effectively assist students requiring additional help or customized lessons related to learning disabilities. While many private schools offer an attractive alternative, parents often cannot afford the hefty tuition fees, and even more frequently private schools are located away from bus or train routes and further from neighborhoods. These factors create a picture where no one is set up to succeed: underpaid and union-backed teachers are not incentivized to improve, students are not receiving the resources or support they need to succeed, and parents are left with no alternatives.

This complex problem has a relatively straightforward solution: implementing school choice policies. The implementation of these policies, including access to charter schools, tax credit scholarships, school voucher programs, and education savings accounts, will allow for every student, regardless of socioeconomic status or neighborhood, to pursue the education that best meets their needs. School voucher programs, which allow parents to use public funds to pay for some or all of their child’s private education, are an incredible opportunity to redirect parents’ tax dollars towards their child’s private school tuition. Charter schools, which operate independently while receiving public funding, are another option that parents can pursue when searching for the atmosphere and educational approach that best suits their child’s learning style. These alternatives give parents considerably more autonomy, and allow them to seek out the location, curriculum, or program that is best for their children.

A key factor in the success of these institutions is their lack of compulsion: students, teachers, parents, and administrators have made a choice to support or attend that school. This creates an environment where students and teachers are actively working together, as opposed to being passive recipients of a pre-packaged education plan dominated by union or government agendas. Charter and private schools give parents the power of choice, and give teachers incentives to succeed. Without the influence of unions and public school regulations, teachers can be compensated for a job well done, or fired for poor performance. Interestingly, the West Virginia school system ranks 38th in the national standing for education, and has earned a “C-” ranking by Quality Counts. This raises questions about the recent strikes: does a C- ranking warrant C- pay?

Considering these factors, it becomes clear that school choice options are the best way to improve our education system. Massachusetts is one state working to make an example of these policies in action. Massachusetts state legislators, such as State Representative Geoff Diehl, have recognized that charter schools have more autonomy when it comes to staff, budget, curriculum, and calendar, allowing them to better address student needs. Diehl, along with superintendents and committee members across the state, has voiced his support of opening vocational schools, which prepare students to enter the workforce upon graduation instead of becoming consumed by debt. As Massachusetts adopts these policies, they move closer to a future where parents can choose the path that’s best for their family, where students can seek the education that allows them to grow into successful adults, and where the state’s education system becomes holistically improved. In the city of Worcester, schools have actually profited from allowing school choice: the district gained $482,036 in 2016 as a result of students exercising choice. The trend continued in 2018: the town of Avon gained over $900,000 in 2017 as a result of school choice policies. Hopefully Massachusetts and the rest of the country will look to striking states as a warning, and continue to enact policies that give them educational freedom.

Rachel Tripp writes about liberty from Washington, D.C.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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