The COVID-19 outbreak has forced tens of millions of kids, parents, and teachers into a new reality: In a matter of weeks, distance learning has become the common educational experience, and in an increasing number of states, schools will be closed for the remainder of the academic year. How will students get the education they need to succeed?
To be sure, many families and educators are experiencing the growing pains that come with getting used to a new way of life. But fortunately, parents are finding ways to ensure their children are educated through this crisis. The Goldwater Institute has long supported reforms to help give all children the tools they need to have a rewarding educational experience that meets their unique needs. And the coronavirus crisis has made it all the more clear that educational freedom is a fundamental part of teaching our kids the fundamentals.
This week, we’re sharing some recent stories about the power of school choice to give all kids the education they deserve. We hope that you continue to stay well during this tumultuous time.
“COVID-19 has claimed thousands of lives, rocked global economic activity, and shuttered school systems en masse,” writes Goldwater Institute Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg on In Defense of Liberty. “Yet amid the outbreak of this highly contagious pathogen, one strain of our society has proven wholly immune to its bite: the American spirit of ingenuity—not only in science and supply chains, but also in education. And we must encourage our leaders in K-12 policy to sustain this spirit.”
Beienburg writes that in the face of the educational hurdles that COVID-19 has created, we should be encouraging innovative solutions. One idea, pitched by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, is to award “microgrants” to teachers and students to support materials needed for home-based learning, educational services like therapies for students with disabilities, or tuition for online learning courses.
Not surprisingly, the National Education Association opposed the idea, even though it’s clear that perhaps now more than ever before, students and teachers need educational flexibility. “Such a program need not erode the primacy of states and localities in providing K-12 education,” Beienburg writes. “Rather, states themselves should look to offer this sort of flexibility to complement their coronavirus response strategies.
The coronavirus outbreak has made school into a scavenger hunt, with families and schools around the country searching for web sites, e-books, and other tools to offer instruction to children while nearly every family is homebound.
But Goldwater Senior Fellow Jonathan Butcher writes that for families who make use of education savings accounts (ESAs), this is really nothing new: ESA families, he says, “are used to seeking out learning experiences that meet a child’s unique needs and then adjusting as circumstances change—so these parents and students are quickly adapting as the pandemic is forcing them to alter a student’s daily routine.”
Butcher shares the stories of two of these families and what their coronavirus education experiences have been like so far. Liz Bradford, for one, talks about the “leaps and bounds” her daughter—10-year-old Libby—has made thanks to an ESA, and during the COVID-19 outbreak, that ESA has made it possible for Libby to continue with her speech therapy, giving her a sense of normalcy in a difficult time. “We’re making it work,” Liz says, “truly because we can make it work” with an ESA.
With schools shuttered across the country, “school administrators, educators, and parents have been able to creatively work around these challenges in a variety of ways—reminding us of the value of both innovation and educational freedom for families,” writes Arizona mom of five Jenny Clark.
Clark is the Executive Director of Love Your School, a group that acts as a resource for Arizona families looking for the best educational options for their children, and so she’s quite familiar with the difference that flexibility and freedom can make in a child’s education. On In Defense of Liberty, Clark writes about the myriad educational resources available to families, providing them the teaching tools they need to navigate this tricky time.
From ESAs to online resources, she writes, “[t]his unprecedented time highlights the value of these types of programs that not only affirm there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model of education, but also that parents’ freedom to place their child in a tailored-to-the-student educational setting is extremely important to the child’s success.”