A majority of Minnesota parents understand that public schools are failing our students and that throwing more money at the problem doesn’t seem to be helping. It is now time to empower parents so they can create educational opportunities to best suit their children and values.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, virtual learning has brought classrooms into homes giving parents a front-row seat into how and what their children are taught. Their reaction has not been favorable. Controversial curriculum is now commonplace and, perhaps most disturbingly, we’ve become aware that the public education establishment does not want parental involvement. All the while, our children’s educational results continue to deteriorate.
The good news is that parents see a solution; it is called Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). ESAs — like those supported by Opportunity for All Kids — allows education dollars to follow individual students to the public, private or charter school of the parents’ choosing. In fact, a poll conducted in early 2022 by the American Federation for Children and Invest in Education shows that support for parental empowerment through policy changes like school choice and ESAs is at an all-time high.
While prior to the pandemic, 64 percent of voters favored school choice today, that support has swelled to more than 75 percent. And when asked specifically about support for Education Savings Accounts that support jumps to nearly 80 percent.
It has also become clear that support for school choice transcends partisan and racial divides: 76% of Democrats, 74% of Independents and 83% of Republicans support ESAs, along with 84% of black voters and 85% of Hispanic voters. My friends — conservative and liberal alike — have all searched everywhere, including outside of public schools, for a school that will be best for their child. That’s why most of my friends of color have enrolled their children in a charter school or private school, even if it requires taking on a second job. Clearly, parents of every stripe no longer want the decision on where their child will go to school to be reserved only for the wealthy.
Kids deserve school choice because all kids are different. My three children all go to different schools. They are all unique and have different strengths and needs. One of my children was not being challenged in our neighborhood school and asked to go to the local charter where he could be with other kids who excel academically. On the flip side I have a child with special needs and our school district only has one — ONE — possible classroom for him in the entire district. When that one class did not work for him, I was stuck. Without the help of ESAs, private schools cannot afford to take him and there are very few other options. Fortunately, I was able to get him into a charter for special-needs children. Children are diverse and we need to recognize that the neighborhood schools will not always be the best fit for one reason or another.
Voters are asking for changes that will benefit Minnesota’s children, not the adults in the system. I find it especially ironic that the same politicians who proclaim loudly that they care about diversity and the achievement gap, oppose school choice. School choice is the only thing that will give public schools incentive to improve and give kids a way out until they do.
While school choice and ESAs did not pass this legislative session, legislators and candidates who oppose these policies in the future are going against the will of their constituents and doing a disservice to those they claim to care about the most.
Candidates need to be talking about this, and those elected in November need to understand that Minnesota parents are frustrated and the time for change is now. Parents of all kinds want to be empowered to direct their child’s education. If you like your public school, you can keep it. But others may need a path to a better education and a better future. Lives are at stake. The time to pass policies like Education Savings Accounts is now.
Kofi Montzka lives in Shoreview with her husband and three children and is a member of Opportunity for All Kids, a parent advocacy group.