Friday, October 22, 2021

Even Randi Weingarten Agrees That ZIP Codes Shouldn’t Determine Destiny

Was I dreaming, or did the president of one of America’s largest teacher’s unions recently post in favor of school choice? 

Randi Weingarten, the President of The American Federation of Teachers, has historically opposed the idea. But check out one of her latest tweets:

Your demography does not define your destiny. Your zip code shouldn’t determine whether or not you have resources and a quality education.

Somebody pinch me. 

The tweet was so off-brand from Weingarten that school choice advocates cheered her on for the first time in a long time.

I’m not naive. I’m under no delusion that Weingarten had a come-to-Jesus moment or a change of heart about putting education dollars in the hands of families to use for their child’s education at a non-public school. Her modus operandi is almost certainly still to keep as much money in the public school system as possible. 

School choice advocates should accept the olive branch and work with teacher unions to implement public school choice policies like open enrollment across the nation for the benefit of students.

Still, the tweet may be Weingarten extending the proverbial olive branch to school choice advocates by endorsing another form of school choice called “open enrollment,” which empowers families with public school choice. School choice advocates should accept the olive branch and work with teacher unions to implement public school choice policies like open enrollment across the nation for the benefit of students.

Open Enrollment Can Bring Unity On School Choice

Open enrollment policies allow families to attend public schools outside of the local school they are assigned based on their address. Currently, only nine states have unfettered open enrollment policies allowing parents to send their child to any traditional public school in the state. In eighteen other states, there are limited mandatory open enrollment policies set in place, usually for children who attend low-performing schools or for those assigned to schools too far from their home to attend. In addition, nineteen other states have left the decision of whether children can attend schools outside of residential assignments up to the district and school instead of the parents. Even worse, four other states have no open enrollment policies at all, leaving kids stuck in whatever districts they’re assigned.

States with limited or non-existent open enrollment policies make it a crime for parents to send their children to any public school outside of the assigned one, as parents can face jail time or be charged a hefty fine depending upon the state where they live. Such policies handicap children’s chances of attending a traditional public school that works best for them, further hurting their chances of obtaining a quality education they can use to achieve their dreams. 

Everyone — even seemingly Randi Weingarten — agrees that criminalizing parents for wanting their child to receive the best education possible is not right. States with limited or non-existent open enrollment policies should look to empower parents and students with public school choice.

Using a child’s home address as the deciding factor in whether they get a good education or not is arbitrary and unfair. It’s time parents and children had a choice in their education. 

If policymakers, school choice advocates, and teacher unions can all agree on open enrollment policies, the future is promising for public schoolers.

If policymakers, school choice advocates, and teacher unions can all agree on open enrollment policies, the future is promising for public schoolers. Research already shows that acquiring a good education is one of the defining factors in a person’s life as it can create better citizens, improve social mobility prospects, and develop well-rounded people. Why should anyone oppose policies that give children a boost toward the education they want and need? 

Moving forward, education stakeholders should advocate with one another for open enrollment policies that empower parents and students with the best public school education that works for them.

Cooper Conway
Cooper Conway is a Young Voices contributor and a Frank Church Scholar at the Boise State University Honors College. 

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