The powerful Washington teachers union, listed by The Seattle Times as the most well-funded lobby in the state capitol, is circulating a petition to close schools again. Meanwhile, forward-looking elected leaders are proposing ways to help caring families gain access to educational opportunities for their children.
Naturally, parents are anxious to get kids back in school. The latest state test scores show sharp declines in the academic achievement of public school students. For example, seventy percent of students have failed the state math test. Meanwhile, most private schools have been fully open since the start of the school year.
Even die-hard liberals like Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat are calling out for urgent action to help the kids recover from their learning losses.
Washington state received $334 million in federal money to open public schools safely, but only seven percent of these funds have been used. Instead, Democrats in Olympia are working to pass SB 5563, to give districts up to $500 million in extra money for students who have left the system.
Some lawmakers, though, want to give families more options. Rep. Alex Ybarra (R-Yakima), ranking Republican on the House Education Committee, said he supports “finding some people who can tutor the kids in what they need.”
Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-Tri-Cities, WA) has introduced the Open Schools Act. His bill would provide up to $10,000 federal education grants to students if their local school is closed to in-person learning.
“Whether it’s a private school, or traveling to a school district that’s offering in-person instruction, or whatever other alternatives they may have, this [bill would] give (students) some financial help to accomplish that,” explained Newhouse.
This is similar to a recent proposal from Arizona, where Governor Doug Ducey unveiled a plan to provide COVID relief funds directly to the families if their local public school is closed to students.
The union’s powerful influence has kept public schools closed far longer in Washington than in most other states. A year ago, in early 2021, 46 states had opened their public schools to in-person learning. Most private schools have been safely open even longer. In March 2021 Governor Inslee declared a mental health emergency for children, and still the union resists fully open schools.
Here are some examples. Claiming “staffing shortages,” the Northshore School District partially closed this month, as I wrote here. A high school in the Vancouver School District recently closed, as I report here. Several public schools in Seattle are also closed.
The lesson the public has learned during COVID is that the public school system primarily serves the interests of adults, while the needs of children come second, or maybe third or fourth.
That is why school choice, empowering parents with direct education funding, is such a popular and powerful idea. In the last year 18 states have enacted or expanded school choice programs, as I report in my recently published study. No wonder some Washington state representatives are starting to advance the same idea, giving parents a way out so they can gain access to a range of learning options for their children.