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Thursday, September 14, 2023

School Choice Redux

At Vox, Andrew Prokop explains why the school choice movement is making progress with education savings accounts:
Universal voucher bills had long failed because most parents didn’t want radical disruption of the public school status quo. The pandemic brought this radical disruption. Polarizing battles unfolded over school closures, mask and vaccine requirements, and (after reopening) how long kids should be kept home if classmates tested positive.

Then the culture war that erupted over race, gender, and sexuality teaching in schools in 2020 and beyond ensured that things never entirely returned to “normal.” Activists like Christopher Rufo argued that “critical race theory” concepts were pervading teaching about race, Twitter accounts like Libs of TikTok spread videos of educators discussing gender identity, and such matters became omnipresent on Fox News and in conservative media.

In the right’s narrative, parents reasonably recoiled against the incompetence or ideological extremism of educators. In the left’s narrative, conservatives targeted the public school system with a strategic and unrelenting campaign of vilification, laden with exaggeration and moral panic. “The overriding message has been to drive a wedge between parents and public schools,” Polikoff said.

Conservative activists saw opportunity. “It is time for the school choice movement to embrace the culture war,” the Heritage Foundation’s Jay Greene and James Paul wrote in 2022.

In a 2019 survey, 31 percent of Republican respondents said they had very little or no confidence in public schools; in a 2022 survey, that number had risen to 50 percent. Democratic and independent voters, in contrast, remained roughly as confident in the public school system as before the pandemic.

But the drop in Republican support shifted the previous political status quo, especially in red states, making rank-and-file GOP voters less hostile about proposals to shake up the system.