Sunday, December 5, 2021

Here’s How School Choice Lawsuits Could Radically Change Education as We Know It

It’s been a tempestuous couple of years for education reform, but the clouds have broken over 2021, and the silver linings have rarely shown as bright. 

Following two years of the Red for Ed movement and two years of COVID mandates and lockdowns that have hobbled the education of a generation of children, fed-up families are finally demanding better educational choices. And lawmakers are listening. This year alone, 18 states have either expanded existing education choice programs or added new ones. We’re living in the “Year of Educational Choice.” 

Fed-up families are finally demanding better educational choices. And lawmakers are listening.

But as the sun rises on a new world, the educational establishment is fighting to keep the old system alive. 

In West Virginia, for example, Mountain State Justice (MSJ), a left-leaning public interest law firm, has filed an intent to sue against the state’s brand new Hope Scholarship — the nation’s broadest and most inclusive education savings account. The program gives families 100% of the state-based portion of education tax dollars, estimated at $4,600 per child per year, to use on whatever kind of education they please.

Students who want to stay enrolled in their traditional public schools can, and students who wish to leave full-time enrollment in the traditional public school system can use the scholarship funds to pursue a more individualized education. Families can use the Hope Scholarship for tuition, curriculum, educational materials, special needs therapies, tutoring, and more. 

In short, the scholarship gives families some choice as to what education they’d like to pursue and allows them to take their tax dollars where they will. The scholarship may not cover the entire cost of tuition, but it will lessen the financial burden for families. 

That doesn’t sit well with MSJ. Their suit contests the scholarship on anti-discrimination grounds, stating that it “excludes anti-discrimination protections otherwise protected under state laws.” 

They also allege that the new program takes money from public schools without making up for the money in the school budget. But that doesn’t really stand up to reason. With fewer students to serve, will the public school really need the same level of funding? 

These arguments are really just an excuse to shield public schools from competition. Why prevent the creation of a world where students are prioritized rather than systems? 

There’s no reason education shouldn’t be as customizable as a coffee order. And these reforms would set us down that path.

The truth is, there’s no reason education shouldn’t be as customizable as a coffee order. And these reforms would set us down that path. Under these programs, the only real limit to the customization of a child’s education is the families’ imaginations and, perhaps, their bank accounts. 

West Virginia isn’t the only state facing opposition to its new school choice program. 

  • Kentucky is also fighting a lawsuit against their newly passed tax-credit funded education savings account program. 
  • A coalition of 75 Ohio public schools is filing a suit against Ohio’s EdChoice school voucher. 
  • Carson v Makin, a case about Maine’s town “tuitioning’ program, is being taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Vermont has been dealing with a similar lawsuit regarding school choice and religious freedom since September 2020. 
  • Pennsylvania is battling over school funding for low-income districts. 

But these lawsuits are beating against a current that’s only getting stronger. A Real Clear Opinion Research poll shows that support for school choice is rising across the nation with 74% of voters supporting school choice and only 16% opposed. Defenders of the status quo have lost in the court of public opinion. Now they are turning to courts of law to block these programs. 

Despite the woes of the last several years, the future of educational freedom is bright. No longer will children’s opportunities be shackled by arbitrary (and often racially biased) zoning laws that lock children into school districts by ZIP code. No longer will families have to worry about whether or not they can afford to provide their children with the education that best suits their individual needs. The programs we’ve seen passed this year are a glimpse into the future.

Lawsuits in opposition to education freedom are the final death throes of the status quo. We shouldn’t let these educational zombies hold us back. It’s time to face a hope-filled future head-on and let our imaginations run wild.

Amanda Kieffer
Amanda Kieffer is the Communications Director for the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy. She is a Young Voices contributor.

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