Progressive teachers versus conservative families: School choice can help level the playing field
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There is a growing disconnect between the values and priorities of the American public education system and the families the system is meant to serve. Educators increasingly see their role as that of rescuing children from the backward values of their parents.
While we see reports of clashes between parents and public schools over the teaching of controversial topics, such as critical race theory and gender identity, we imagine these are issues confined to large cities, mainly located on the coasts. But the disconnect between the values and priorities of educators and the communities they serve has spread across the country, including in rural Texas.
To document this disconnect, we examined the political preferences of public school employees who reside in rural Texas ZIP codes relative to the preferences of voters in those areas. We collected information from the OpenSecrets.com website about political campaign contributions from everyone who listed an “ISD” (or Independent School District) as an employer and who had an address in a ZIP code with a density of population less than 500 people per square mile, a criterion for classifying areas as rural.
Of the more than 1,400 campaign contributions made by public school employees in rural Texas during the last election cycle, 90.2 percent went to support Democratic candidates. In contrast, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott won re-election with 80.7% of the bipartisan vote in rural counties. Rural Texans and the educators who teach their children in public schools clearly see the world very differently.
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A teacher who is an active Democratic supporter could be an excellent teacher of the children of active Republican supporters in the same way that the children of Baptists could receive a quality education in a Catholic school. But we are not forcing Baptists to send their children to Catholic schools, nor should we be forcing conservative, rural Texans to send their children to public schools dominated by progressives.
Rural families who object to having their children proselytized by leftist educators need alternatives. School choice proposals, such as the creation of Education Savings Accounts (CES), would allow families greater control so that the values taught to their children better match the values parents prefer.
ESAs typically take 90% of what public schools would spend on each child and place that in parent-directed individual student accounts. These funds could be used to pay private school tuition, but they can also be used to purchase home schooling programs, hire tutors or therapists, or purchase educational materials. ESAs allow families to personalize their children’s education based on their individual learning needs.
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Rural superintendents have blocked the expansion of school choice in Texas by whispering in the ear of their state legislators that it could jeopardize local public school jobs. But it’s unclear why rural lawmakers should heed these concerns given that rural educators can undermine the values of their constituents and donate to their political opponents.
Expanding school choice by adopting ESAs would not eliminate jobs in education since the children and the resources to send them to school in rural areas would persist. All of this school choice would only shift some of the jobs from the Democratic-dominated public schools to other schools whose values are more likely to align with those of parents in those areas. The superintendent may say he’s a Republican at the Rotary Breakfast, but those jobs he’s protecting don’t usually promote conservative priorities.
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The difference between who rural Texas educators support and who their neighbors vote for is neither subtle nor slight. Rural Texans overwhelmingly vote Republican, but the people who teach their kids overwhelmingly support Democrats.
There is no reason to lock rural families into schools dominated and run by people with radically different values and priorities. AES would free families from this trap and give them the means to have their children educated with values that correspond to those taught at home.
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Ian Kingsbury is a senior researcher at the Educational Freedom Institute.