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The state of our nation’s public schools is bleak. We’ve known for years that our public schools are ailing, but the pandemic was crucial in exposing even more cracks in our nation’s school system. At large, American children are not receiving an education that prepares them for college, an apprenticeship, or even to properly balance a checkbook. Students are graduating high school lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills. A startling number don't even graduate at all.
For years, a popular government response has been to throw more money at these failing schools. But this is not always a viable solution. Take for example the Harrisburg School District in Pennsylvania. In an attempt to revitalize the city’s schools, the District poured money into rebuilding the schools, racking up over $270 million in debt. The revitalization project did little in the way to improve the quality of education and instead focused on making the schools look nicer from the outside. Sadly, this has been the case nationwide as well.
Another common response has been to suppress policy options, such as Education Savings Accounts (ESA) or scholarships, that would make it easier for parents to send their kids to the school that best fits their unique needs. Opponents of these policies argue in bad faith that their implementation would pull money and resources away from public schools. But, as we’ve seen happen time and time again, focusing taxpayer-funded education dollars solely on public schools, while simultaneously denying the freeing up of these funds for alternative education options is not a guarantee that public schools will improve. In fact, there is evidence that allowing students to go to the schools that fit them best would actually improve public schools by letting them concentrate more on the students who choose them.
Suppression of parental choice policies goes hand in hand with the grip of teachers' unions and special interest groups on the education system. It’s become clear over the past two years that the priorities of these groups receive more attention than the needs of children left behind, those who must suffer the effects of a poor primary and secondary education for the rest of their lives.
With all of this in mind, it’s time for lawmakers across the country to take a serious look at what they can do to advance parental choice and expand students’ education options. Enter West Virginia, which recently signed into law Senate Bill 268, allowing microschools to officially operate as alternatives to conventional K-12 schooling. This is an exciting development for the parental choice movement; microschools have been sprouting up rapidly around the country as parents realize that traditional schooling is no longer cutting it for their kids.
For those unfamiliar with microschools, they are small, independent educational institutions. They can serve a group of children as small as ten or as large as 100. They are known for their hands-on approach to learning and grouping children together based on what they need to focus on rather than by age. Finally, one of the best things about microschools is that anyone with initiative can start one.
A particularly impressive example of a microschool is the Mysa school in Washington, D.C. The self-professed mission of Mysa is to meet students where they are and help them master material, rather than simply march through it. This kind of school incorporates free market principles that emphasize matching the best education solution available to individual pupils, as opposed to the one-size-fits all approach that is failing students in public schools. After all, with everything else being custom-made for us these days, why should education be any different?
Paired with the West Virginia Hope Scholarship Program, an education savings account program that allows students to access per-pupil state funding for education costs, the passage of Senate Bill 268 shows that West Virginia is leading the way on parental choice and education freedom.
It’s easy to focus on the negative when we look around at our nation’s schools, but we need to start focusing on the future and what could be. Let this West Virginia bill be an example for other states to follow when it comes to allowing parents to educate their children through nontraditional options, and let microschools like MYSA be a cutting edge example of what the future of American education could look like.
Sen. Patricia Rucker is a Republican member of the West Virginia State Senate, representing the 16th district. Adam Brandon is the President of FreedomWorks.