February 22, 2022

California School Choice Initiative Would Break up the Public School Monopoly and Promote Student Flourishing

By: Christina Grattan

Governor Newsom seems to think he knows the best way to educate every child in California. He believes that a state-controlled bureaucratized system of education is the key to student flourishing. Recently, he signed a bill that requires all high school students to take an ethnic studies course to graduate as a way of providing a “more equal education to students.” His 2022 budget also includes a program that would turn thousands of California schools into “community schools” that must provide social welfare services like welfare-work programs, foster care, and even mental health counseling

However, Newsom’s progressive vision of schooling that champions a one-size-fits-all solution for students fails to get to the root of the problem. If he truly supported creating a better life for every student, he would let go of the public school monopoly and embrace California’s Education Freedom Act, a monumental school choice initiative. 

The California Education Freedom Act, proposed by Californians for School Choice, if implemented, would establish an Education Savings Account (ESA) for each K-12 student. Each ESA would provide parents $14,000 annually to spend towards an education of choice for their child. This can include private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, home school programs, etc. Any funds that are not used when the child graduates high school goes towards their higher education. This school choice initiative is truly revolutionary as it would liberate students from the dominant mode of schooling, opening new paths to educational freedom. 

With the unsatisfactory condition of public schooling in the past 2 years, the need for school choice is more urgent than ever. Amid the COVID pandemic, the California Teachers Association, the largest statewide teacher union, fought against reopening schools because they feared counties would reach the state’s red tier of infections

Children only make up 13% of all COVID-19 cases, and the death rate among adolescents is even lower. Even still, this past Fall the Los Angeles Unified School District hesitatingly reopened requiring students to wear a mask and receive covid-testing every two weeks, regardless of vaccination status due to the teachers union demands. Students need to be prioritized over teacher unions. 

In addition, even though California spent $79 billion in education in 2019, only half of the students performed at grade level reading standards during the last state-administered test. More shockingly, only 34% 34% of 4th graders scored proficient in math on the 2019 National Assessment of Progress (NAEP). The public school system is not living up to its promises, and parents are starting to notice.

While the public school system was meant to be a way for students to receive a stellar education to become successful individuals, perhaps “we have reached the end of the impossible dream of providing universal, free, and high-quality public education,” as Peter Schrag, an editor for the Sacramento Bee wrote wrote

The path to student achievement lies in the school choice, not mandated government schooling. The California Freedom Act would create a market-based system of competition to improve education for students, no longer left to the mercy of teachers’ unions or centrally-planned education standards. By letting parents decide where to spend money for their child, rather than impersonal bureaucrats, public and private schools would be encouraged to cater to the student’s needs while maximizing spending.  

Even more important is a child’s capacity for moral formation and upright character to create student success. Children in school choice programs generally align better with the values of their faith and local community due to the leverage parents have over their education. However, with measures such as Newsom’s ethnic studies program, the ability to teach religious values in education is nonexistent since public schools stay religiously void.  

Education funds should go to students instead of systems so they can realize their full potential. School choice enables students to improve their technical skills, attend an art school, receive a classical education, or travel when studying to achieve their vocational goals. However, if the lack of opportunities restricts students to a public school system, their capacity for creativity and imagination which leads to innovation is hindered. 

One should not assume that public schools are the only way to promote diverse viewpoints either. For example, a study from the Manhattan Institute found that students in school choice programs exhibit greater tolerance for different religious and political views while participating in more civic engagement, including public speaking and drafting letters on political topics. The school choice initiative would create unique experiences to students since there are more options to explore, opening up a student’s mind to open and independent inquiry. 

California needs to embrace the school choice movement. Already, 30 states have proposed 50 school choice bills nationwide to bring ground-breaking changes to students’ education this year. The California Education Freedom Act would help break up the faulty public-school monopoly and transform learning for the better. All children deserve the opportunity to be empowered through education, which looks different for every individual.