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School Choice Winning

A Commentary By John Stossel

Finally! Now more states will let parents use their tax money to educate their kids at a school they choose.

In Arizona, families can get $6,500 to spend on private school, tutoring or even home schooling.

The education establishment is horrified -- especially teachers unions. They don't want competition.

But competition makes us all better. The Ford Model T was a breakthrough. But it's lousy compared to what we have today. That's because carmakers compete to make better cars.

But American education has barely changed since the days of Henry Ford. Kids still sit in a room, watching a teacher at a blackboard.

For my video this week, I debate a union leader.

He's David Walrod, president of the Fairfax, Virginia, chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. The AFT has been controlled by union boss Randi Weingarten for 14 years. I once provoking her by saying, "Unionized monopolies like yours fail!"

"We are not a unionized monopoly!" she replied. "Folks who want to say this ... don't really care about kids."

Weingarten won't talk to me anymore, so I'm glad Walrod would.

"What's wrong with giving parents a choice?" I ask. After all, competition makes us try harder.

"If I compete directly against you, I have a vested interest in doing better than you," he said.

Isn't that good?

"Not in education," he replies. Parental choice would just "duplicate bureaucracy."

But his schools are already drowning in bureaucracy. They spend $16,505 per student! That's more than $300,000 per classroom. $300,000 would fund several good teachers, but the bureaucracy prevents that money from going to actual teaching.

"Any ideas you have for lowering bureaucracy -- you're not gonna hear any disagreement from the teachers union," says Walrod.

But his union supports the complex rules that protect every teacher's job.

"Teachers that aren't up to snuff should be let go," says Walrod.

But the school's human resources handbook makes that nearly impossible. Fairfax schools spent more than $70,000 on lawyers trying to fire a teacher they considered incompetent. They failed.

Another reason some parents want to escape government-run schools is because during the pandemic, many stayed closed while private schools reopened.

"There are definitely valid arguments to say that some districts played it too cautious," Walrod admits, "but we were dealing with an ongoing health crisis ... CDC guidelines."

I push back. "Seems like you were eager to embrace the CDC's message ... so you didn't have to go to work!"

"Online teaching was harder than in-person teaching," Walrod responds. Really.

Attitudes like that are a reason 5,000 students left Fairfax public schools during the pandemic.

Another reason was: hard-left indoctrination.

Fairfax paid Ibram Kendi $20,000 for a one-hour Zoom presentation on racism.

Maybe Fairfax parents want their tax money spent this way. But I bet not all do.

If parents want their kids to study critical race theory, wear masks or learn that America constantly oppresses people, they should be able to choose a school that offers that.

But they should have a choice.

Choice would allow families to "take their children to institutions that best align with their values," says education researcher Corey DeAngelis.

Walrod had told me, "Public schools have consistently outperformed charter schools."

When I asked for evidence, he said, "Look in educational policy journals."

Some studies have found that school choice hasn't raised test scores.

That's "cherry-picking the evidence," says DeAngelis. Most studies found test score gains.

Additionally, "Public schools actually upped their game in response to competition."

That was an unexpected benefit.

After school choice was allowed in Washington, D.C., both charter and public schools improved. That's a win for kids and taxpayers.

"Government-run schools spend over $30,000 per year (per student) in D.C. The voucher's only about a third of that," says DeAngelis.

There aren't many reforms that bring results like that.

"For a long time ... the only special interest group was the teachers unions," says DeAngelis. "Now there's a new special interest group in town: parents."

John Stossel posts a new video about the battle between government and freedom every Tuesday on JohnStossel.com.


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See Other Commentaries by John Stossel.

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