School Choice Is Now the Civil Rights Issue of Our Generation

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on parents’ lives for almost a year now, especially when it comes to the education of their children. And while solutions to move learning online seem simple, the reality has been much different.

Just ask students of color and low-income parents and children.

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A recent study by McKinsey and Company shows that students of color are up to five months behind in learning. And by the end of the school year, the study estimates that these same students could be one year behind.

That should be cause for concern for anyone who takes their job as an educator seriously. But instead, teachers’ unions threatened to strike if schools reopened this past fall. And many continue to consider stunts like “sick outs,” even with multiple schools in our state returning safely to in-person learning.

But these threats only prove to be deaf to the challenges faced by low-income students, many of whom lack access to the proper technological resources or quiet study environments that can help make virtual learning successful. To top that off, most low-income parents are unable to work from home to help their children with this distance “learning.”

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That’s why it’s no surprise that there’s been a mass exodus of students from district schools. One report estimates up to 3 million students across the country who haven’t experienced any formal education since last March. And Arizona certainly isn’t immune to this educational pandemic. Chandler Unified School District has approximately 1,600 fewer students than it anticipated. And this comes after the district positioned itself to be one of the few in Arizona that expected an increase in enrollment for this year. That projection was enough to convince Chandler residents to vote for a $290 million bond measure in 2019. Now, the district faces a possible funding loss of $21 million.

It’s clear that COVID has changed the game for the education debate in Arizona. And that’s why it’s understandable that so many students and parents have deserted their public schools. Parents need help. But many school boards continue to waver between virtual and in-person learning.

In the meantime, parents are seeking out better options for their kids. Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA), which allow parents to use their tax dollars to homeschool or choose an alternative learning solution for their children, have exploded around the state since the pandemic hit. And now, Senate Bill 1452, introduced by Senator Paul Boyer, seeks to expand the ESA program to include low-income students. The bill would give parents up to $7,000 in ESA funds to spend on their children’s education and cut the approval waiting time for parents to 30 days instead of 100.

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Thankfully, last week the Arizona Senate Education Committee passed SB1452 amid support from prominent black leaders, like Pastor Drew Anderson. They hope to offset what is known as the prison pipeline due to a lack of education and would much rather see our tax dollars invested in education, most especially school choice.

Predictably, teachers’ unions disapprove and are doing everything they can to stop SB1452 from becoming law.

But something needs to be done. Low-income students deserve an opportunity to attend schools that will work for them. As Pastor Drew says, “School choice is today’s modern Civil Rights movement, and we must get this bill passed.”

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