Submitted by Sage Withrow, Greenwich
In a significant victory for educational opportunity, Arizona has taken action to become an oasis for parents, students and teachers. On July 7, AZ Governor Doug Ducey signed HB 2853 which enabled any family in the state to receive $6500 per year per child for “private school, homeschooling, micro schools, tutoring, or any other kinds of educational service that helps meet the needs of their students outside of the traditional public school system.” Several other states such as Texas and Florida (read: those that have experienced net migration inflows during the pandemic) have legislatures in various stages of expanding school choice as well. Connecticut would be wise to take note.
With the passage of HB 2853, the Copper State will undoubtedly attract renewed interest for those infuriated by declining student outcomes and draconian mandates that have become the norm across the nation. This is particularly the case in neighboring California where migration trends show nearly 1000 people are fleeing the state daily(1) while Governor Newsom focuses on raising his national profile rather than working for his constituents.
Here in Connecticut, the latest from the National Center for Education Statistics shows reason for concern. While in aggregate our state’s math scores come in slightly above the national average, an astonishing 61% of CT public-school 8th graders do not meet National Assessment of Educational
Progress (NAEP) standards for proficiency, with 28% failing to meet even the basic standard.(2) This is particularly astonishing in the context of Connecticut ranking second in the nation in per pupil spending(3).
The unfortunate reality is that while spending more (& more & more) makes us feel good because we’re Doing Something, it is not actually creating better outcomes. A primary culprit in the acceleration in costs has been the growth in “administration.” In the period from 1950-2009 the number of students in
US public schools grew by 96%. The number of teachers grew by 252%. The number of “Administration and other staff”? That grew by an astonishing 702% (4). Think about that for a second. A seven-fold increase. What, precisely, is it that’s getting administered? Whatever it is, its not improving educational outcomes in a statistically significant way and at the end of the day that is what matters.
That is why the Arizona law is important. The best source for a real solution is competition. Throughout our history it has been proven time and time again that innovation increases as it moves away from rigid centralization. Legislation such as Arizona’s takes a significant step in that direction.
A primary role for a parent is to constantly evaluate if their child’s long-term interests are being served by the educational environment they are in. When the answer is obviously no, the most basic humanitarian instinct is to do whatever possible to facilitate another option. The idea that school choice should be province only to those with means is patently absurd and counter to any fundamental notion of opportunity. Does it get more elitist than suggesting that someone’s child shouldn’t have the opportunity to change their life because their family’s lack of disposable income? Why is it that our friends on the left are so adamantly opposed to school choice? One could be forgiven for thinking that maybe, just maybe, it is because they’re more concerned with one size fits all indoctrination than with improving educational outcomes.
There is little doubt that most teachers in struggling schools want desperately to help their pupils. Decentralization brought on by school choice empowers them to do so by pursuing their craft in institutions that demonstrate results rather than confining them to a one size fits all model that mandates not only the end point of a curriculum but also the path on which they must travel to arrive there.
This is not to say there is no role for the state in the process, rather the idea is to isolate the state’s participation to the realm where it can be effective; namely setting bright lines and objective standards that allow for the widest possible array of thoughtful attempts to fix the problem. Beyond that does anyone really doubt that a teacher coupled with an engaged parent can’t better identify the path to learning and development for an individual child than some distant bureaucrat or “administrator” whether on the local school board, in Hartford or in D.C.?
While that administrator might be well intentioned, they will never care about my child as much as I do. That doesn’t mean that even the most engaged parent is always right when evaluating their child’s best interest, but there is zero doubt that their hit rate will be higher. Finding the right answer for each individual student to maximize their success and opportunity will require mountains of work. The state should be in the business of empowering parents and teachers in that endeavor, not making that job harder by creating barriers to real choice and opportunity.
A brave few in Hartford, including Rep. Kim Fiorello, recognize the merit of such an approach and have proposed legislation similar to Arizona’s. This November let’s brighten the opportunities for all students in our state and elect a General Assembly that will focus on outcomes rather than interest groups.