Let's Talk About School Choice

There’s a lot that none of us saw coming when we blissfully rang in 2020 seven months ago (yes, it’s only been seven months). Like the resurgence of other old-timey pursuits such as bread baking, home gardening, and taking daily walks around the neighborhood, homeschoolers are now considered the cool kids on the block. They were educating from the kitchen table long before a worldwide pandemic forced everyone else to do it too.

The closure of public schools and the disappointing results of virtual learning have led to an extraordinary surge in popularity for everything except traditional public education. The education arena is awash with a new litany of school choice terms: microschools, pods, hybrid homeschooling. On Capitol Hill, during negotiations for the Phase IV COVID-19 package, the question of what to do about schools and all of these alternatives is one of the hot-button issues.

Senator Cruz has introduced the Helping Parents Educate Children During the Coronavirus Pandemic Act, which would allow families to temporarily use 529 savings accounts for K–12 expenses, including materials for homeschools. Senators Lamar Alexander and Tim Scott proposed the School Choice Now Act, a tax credit program to infuse scholarship-granting organizations in each state with an influx of funds to help the nonpublic education sector.

But what should—or shouldn’t—Congress do about school choice, especially in a time when so many families are looking for education alternatives?

They shouldn’t try to regulate education choice. Homeschooling is successful because it’s free from government regulation. Homeschool families don’t currently get any tax breaks; in fact, their taxes still go towards their local public schools, even though their students don’t attend them. But the trade-off is that these families are not forced to follow the “one-size-fits-all” model of government-funded public education.

Some school choice programs, such as various tax credits or educational savings accounts, incentivize families to choose particular educational programs over others. Governments say, “we will give you money to spend on education . . . but only on the education expenses that the government approves of.” But government doesn’t know what education needs your family has; only you do.

What Congress should do is make alternatives to public schools more accessible without attaching regulatory strings. Fortunately, both of the current Senate proposals do exactly that: they would allow families to use more of their own money toward their own individual education needs, no government strings attached. Whether or not these proposals will make it through the process remains to be seen, but they are positive steps forward.

If there’s a silver lining to a worldwide pandemic, it’s that the necessity of school choice is becoming plainer every day. Families should not be boxed into one type of education simply because of their zip codes or income levels, especially when that educational model fails to deliver in times of crisis.

No matter what is going on in the world, HSLDA Action is here to fight for educational freedom—for all families, at all times. We will continue to encourage Congress to take these positive steps forward and fight against those who want to restrict liberty. Thank you for standing with us!