Commentary: School Choice Keeps Spreading

Classroom

In just three years, the number of states with universal or near-universal private school choice programs has grown from zero to 10, and the number of students eligible for these programs has increased by 60%. According to the latest ABCs of School Choice – EdChoice’s comprehensive report about all matters pertaining to educational freedom—32 states (plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico) are using school choice as of 2023. Additionally, policymakers in 40 states debated 111 educational choice bills last year alone. Overall, approximately 20 million students—or 36% of all kids—are now eligible for some kind of private-choice program.

But what’s good for children and their families is problematic for the teachers’ unions and their fellow travelers. As such, on January 22—not coincidentally the beginning of National School Choice Week—the Partnership for the Future of Learning released a toolkit, maintaining that “voucher programs are “deeply rooted in segregation, racism, and discrimination.” The PFL, which is comprised of predominantly left-wing outfits—the National Education Association, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Learning Policy Institute, etc.—adds that private schools “do not have necessary accountability measures.”

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Commentary: Four Things People Can Do to Change the Culture in 2024

People Praying

Maybe I am on a new year high, but as I consider the West’s cultural renewal, I sense an optimism in the air I haven’t felt for years.

In 2023, we saw a growing public awareness about the dangers and futility of transgender surgery. Alongside that, many woke up to the hypocrisy of the climate alarmists. And building on the success of Roe v. Wade’s demise, many states have now passed heartbeat bills, providing robust protections for many of the nation’s unborn. Surprisingly, pollsters even picked up on a decline in support for same-sex relationships.

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Analysis: States Are Gearing Up for a School Choice Showdown in 2024

School choice is going to be a hot-button issue next year as several states are set to propose legislation expanding education options, while others are gearing up to defend against lawsuits claiming voucher programs are unconstitutional and an “existential threat” to public schools.

School choice advocates passed legislation in Nebraska, Florida, Ohio and other states in 2023, with a major victory in Oklahoma as well after the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved an application for a Catholic online school in June, the first religious charter school in the country. Several states are looking to follow their lead in 2024 and expand education options for parents, while others have become the target of lawsuits by public education advocates, who argue that voucher programs are unconstitutional.

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Kinder, Gentler Iowa Cattle Call of GOP Presidential Hopefuls Sees Ramaswamy, DeSantis, Haley Generate Most Buzz

The latest cattle call of GOP presidential contestants — sans former President Donald Trump — mainly maintained Iowa nice, a departure from last month’s first fiery primary debate and a similar Christian conservative event in July hosted by conservative talk show host lightning rod Tucker Carlson.

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Commentary: The Economic Benefits of School Choice

It’s back to school for Florida students and many others across the country this week. The first days and weeks of a new school year are always filled with anticipation, adjustments, transitions and growth for parents and students. Yet, this school year’s “firsts” for an expanding pool of families also includes the first time that their children will have the resources and freedom to enroll in the school of their choice. The short and long-term consequences of these new opportunities aren’t just experienced within the four walls of a home or school building, or by the families now empowered to pursue them – the impact of education choice stretches across communities and economies, helping to unleash prosperity and growth that benefits everyone.

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Pennsylvania School Voucher Battle Heads Back to Campaign Trail

Though school choice supporters lost a budget fight over a $100 million voucher program, the next battle appears to be at the ballot box.

On Monday, the Commonwealth Partners PAC announced plans for a $10 million campaign “to elect school-choice lawmakers,” saying the group would “continue to fight for kids’ interest against special interests,” according to a press release.

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Poll Shows Voters in Battleground States Trust Republicans over Democrats on Education

A new EdTrends poll of voters in the swing states of Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Nevada, shows that Democrats have given up what was once a double-digit lead on “trust in education” and are now lagging behind Republicans by three percentage points.

The poll revealing the historic shift was released Friday by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), an organization that lobbies for Democrat candidates and heads campaigns to achieve “educational equity for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.”

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State Senators Spar over School Choice in Pennsylvania

While the Pennsylvania budget stalemate remains, senators argued over the importance of school choice and increasing public school funding at a committee hearing in Reading.

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday to discuss “student opportunities for success,” hearing from parents of children in public and private schools in Reading, as well as public school leaders of Reading School District.

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Pennsylvania Budget Deal Unlikely Before September

Both chambers of the General Assembly officially left Harrisburg for the summer — an ominous sign that the bipartisan wound won’t heal anytime soon.

The development comes nearly two weeks after the Senate recessed until mid-September, furious over Gov. Josh Shapiro’s default on a $45.5 billion budget deal — complete with a new $100 million school choice program he helped draft — amid resistance from Democratic leadership in the House.

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Gridlock Stalls School Choice Proposal as Pennsylvania Budget Prepares for Overtime

A Republican-backed school choice program stalled Thursday after House Democrats adjourned without voting on it.

Later, in a statement provided to The Center Square, House Majority Leader Matt Bradford, D-Norristown, said he won’t entertain the proposal as part of budget negotiations.

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Republicans Lament Failure to Include Lifeline Scholarships in Pennsylvania Budget So Far

Just four days remain until June 30, Pennsylvania’s Fiscal Year 2023-24 budget deadline and much still divides Republicans who control the state Senate from Governor Josh Shapiro and his fellow Democrats who control the House of Representatives. 

The school-choice debate is among the most concerning facets of budget negotiations so far for the GOP. Shapiro indicated last year that he wanted the commonwealth to create “lifeline scholarships,” i.e. a private-school choice program for economically disadvantaged students in poorly performing schools. Republicans hoped they could coalesce with him around the policy’s enactment.

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Commentary: School Choice’s Rapid Post-Pandemic Expansion Sets Up a Big Pass/Fail Test for Education

A growing number of states are adopting a comprehensive new type of school choice program that would pose a threat to public schools if many students were to leave them for a private education. 

Eight states – including Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and West Virginia – have approved “universal” or near-universal school choice laws since 2021. They open the door completely to school choice by making all students, including those already in private schools and from wealthy families, eligible for about $7,000 to $10,000 in state funding each year for their education. 

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In Pittsburgh, Massive School Spending Hasn’t Bought Massive Achievement

A Pittsburgh-based think tank’s analysis published this week shows the city’s public schools spend far more per student than the average public school even as achievement severely lags.

Examining student testing statistics and finance data, the brief by the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (AI) determined that Pittsburgh Public Schools spend almost $30,000 per pupil — among the highest spending figures in the state — while their institutions score woefully low. 

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Pennsylvania GOP Senate to Tackle Budget That Overspends Shapiro Proposal by $1.1 Billion

At first, Keystone State Republicans viewed Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro’s Fiscal Year 2023-24 budget proposal with mere skepticism. This week, state House Democrats larded it with an extra $1.1 billion and passed it, making a fray between their chamber and the Republican-run Senate even more probable. 

The nearly $47 billion spending plan, approved by representatives along party lines, hikes spending by $5.7 billion over the current fiscal year, a more than a 13-percent increase. Members of the Republican minority excoriated their Democratic colleagues for rushing the plan to passage within six hours of its completion, a move they said reflected poor transparency. Representative Doyle Heffley (R-Weissport) spoke for many in his party when he called the House-passed plan a “poison pill” for Pennsylvania’s economy. 

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School Choice Coalition Pressures Pennsylvania Governor for Support

An unorthodox coalition wants Gov. Josh Shapiro to put money behind the support he expressed for school choice on the campaign trail last year.

Advocates said Friday that letting children move to better schools should transcend partisan lines and is crucial for their futures.

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Analysis: The State School Choice in the U.S.

As the school year ends and legislative sessions adjourn, Chalkboard updated its review of which legislatures nationwide are implementing school choice measures that provide education options for students and their families and which states have removed them.

Several states across the country have recently adopted legislation that would allow students to attend any school of their choice using taxpayer dollars, something that advocates call universal school choice. Critics of the legislation say such measures will divert money away from public school systems that need the funds.

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Oklahoma State Superintendent Cites Teachers’ Unions as ‘Marxist’ and ‘Terrorist’ Organizations

Oklahoma state superintendent of schools Ryan Walters repeated Saturday that teachers’ unions are “Marxist” and “terrorist” organizations that are not advocating for students or teachers, but seeking power and financial gain for their leaders.

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Indiana Expands School Choice to Nearly All K-12 Students as Republican-Led States Continue Momentum

Indiana scored the latest school choice victory with nearly all, save for 3.5 percent of families with school-age children, qualifying for the state’s new voucher program, The Wall Street Journal editorial board noted last week.

“The hits keep coming on school choice in Republican-run states,” The Journal editors observed, detailing:

The new law raises the income cap to 400% of the free- and reduced-price lunch income level, which is now about $220,000 for a family of four. The bill also removes the other criteria for eligibility so that any family under the income limit can apply. Tens of thousands of additional students could qualify, and a legislative analysis projects that some 95,000 students might use the program in 2025, up from about 53,000 in 2023.

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Red State Gov Signs School Choice Program into Law, Gives Private School Students Taxpayer Funds

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed school choice legislation into law Thursday that provides private and religious school students with taxpayer funds.

Under S 39, every student enrolled in a private or religious school will be eligible to receive $6,000 to spend on education related costs. The bill, signed into law by McMasters on Thursday, passed the state Senate in February and the state House approved the bill in April, 79-35.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Legislation He Calls ‘Largest Expansion of School Choice in History of These United States’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday in Miami that establishes an Education Savings Accounts (ESA) program under which every family in the state can receive up to $8,000 to cover education expenses outside of the public school system. “The state of Florida is number one when it comes to education freedom and education choice,” DeSantis said at a press conference.

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Parent Groups ‘Fed Up’ with Striking Los Angeles Unions ‘Using Kids as Pawns’

Parent groups in California and those specifically in Los Angeles are enraged that tens of thousands of staff and teachers of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) went out on strike Tuesday, demanding higher pay and increased staffing in district schools.

“Parents are fed up with LAUSD unions using kids as pawns in contract negotiations,” tweeted Parent Union (CPC), a coalition of parents, parent groups, education reform advocates and community leaders dedicated to advancing meaningful education policies, accountability and choice in California’s K-12 education system.” 

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Dr. Mark McDonald Tells Parents What They Need to Do to Save Their Children from Government Schools

Los Angeles-based psychiatrist Dr. Mark McDonald said “America’s schools are broken” beyond repair and have now become “dangerous” centers of leftist indoctrination – a problem parents must solve by changing their lifestyles, if necessary, to save their children.

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Oklahoma Set to Debut a First-of-It’s-Kind School Choice Program

by Reagan Reese   While conventional school choice programs typically involve vouchers administered by the state, Oklahoma is set to create a tax credit-based initiative to fund education outside the public school system. The state’s school choice program, which would create a refundable tax credit program for all families that…

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Arkansas Senate Passes Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Massive Education Reform Bill

The Republican-led Arkansas Senate Thursday passed Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ (R) Arkansas LEARNS Act, a comprehensive education reform plan that seeks to eliminate Critical Race Theory (CRT) in classrooms, increase the salaries of teachers, and broaden school choice in order to “empower parents.”

“We are one step closer to unleashing the boldest, most comprehensive, conservative education reform package in the nation — a blueprint for success for the rest of the country,” Huckabee Sanders tweeted.

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SPN Poll: Parents Support School Choice

More than six out of every 10 voters with children under 18 would be receptive to the prospect of their child attending a school outside of their locally zoned public district, a new State Policy Network poll finds. Overall, the SPN State Voices opinion poll of roughly 2,000 registered voters conducted in partnership with Morning Consult through online interviews found that 62% of respondents said they would interested in such an option, some 30% of them very much so.

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Ted Cruz Bills Aim to Advance School Choice Across the Country Through Tax Credits, 529 Expansion

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, commemorated National School Choice Week by filing two bills to advance school choice, one of which his staff said would be the most significant educational reform since the GI bill. “We need to provide students with a variety of educational options to fit their needs,” Cruz told The Daily Signal in an email statement Tuesday. “I have often said that school choice is the civil rights issue of the 21st century, and I believe no differently today than I did when I began serving in the Senate a decade ago.

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Kentucky Supreme Court’s Ruling Dismantles State’s School Choice Program

The Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Thursday against the state’s school choice program created in 2021.

The Education Opportunity Accounts (EOA) Act created a privately funded needs-based assistance program for those seeking a private education. Those who donated to the program received a nearly “dollar-for-dollar” tax credit which the court ruled violated Kentucky’s Constitution which prohibits the collecting of a “sum” for “education other than in common schools.”

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Lifeline Scholarships Reintroduced in Pennsylvania House

Girl with brunette hair reading in a library

Pennsylvania state Representative Clint Owlett (R-Wellsboro) on Tuesday announced he will reintroduce legislation to guarantee school choice to students in the state’s most poorly performing school districts. 

Under Owlett’s proposed law, families of such students could also use the new “lifeline scholarships” to pay for textbooks, special-needs services and other qualifying expenses. 

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The School Choice Movement is Picking Up Steam Across the Country

The school choice movement is gaining momentum as states focus on legislation that would give families greater freedom to select their child’s education, advocates told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Utah, New Hampshire and South Carolina are pushing for more expansive school choice legislation that would increase the value of school choice vouchers and the number of eligible students, while states such as Arizona and Florida have already implemented programs that provide vouchers to students outside of the public school system. The increasing push for more school choice legislation across the country is because other states have provided the model to do so, advocates told the DCNF.

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Vermont Backs Down on Religion-Free School Choice after SCOTUS Knocks Down Maine Policy

Vermont families that want to send their children to religious schools will no longer be excluded from the state’s tuition benefit program, as a result of legal settlements in two cases brought by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

The plaintiffs who were denied funding under the Town Tuition Program, which provides tuition for students who live in areas without local public schools, will get reimbursement for money spent out of pocket on tuition. Other families denied funding can apply as well.

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Survey: 61 Percent of Americans Say Public Education on Wrong Track

EdChoice’s annual Schooling in America survey found 61 percent of Americans believe government-run education is headed in the wrong direction, while 76% of the public back parental choice programs such as education savings accounts (ESAs).

In 2022, the poll’s tenth anniversary, the survey found 61 percent of Americans and 52 percent of school parents say public schools are on the wrong track, while 34 percent of Americans and 48 percent of school parents state government-led education is headed in the right direction.

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School Choice Advocates Remind Philadelphia Parents of Options as District Workers Prepare to Strike

As unionized public-school staffers protest the School District of Philadelphia’s failure to assent to the union’s salary and training terms, threatening to strike at the beginning of the school year, school-choice advocates are reminding parents of alternatives.

Bus drivers, custodians, maintenance staff and other workers represented by the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ have authorized a strike that could compromise the resumption of schooling that is scheduled for next Monday. Pro-strike workers insist they are underpaid, noting that cleaners make roughly $16,000 per year at the low end. At the high end, construction inspectors make approximately $70,000.

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School Choice Gaining Favor over Teachers’ Unions and Socialist Bureaucrats

“School choice is good for everybody but unions, socialist bureaucrats and the tired education establishment,” libertarian John Stossel wrote Wednesday at the New York Post.

The author and journalist observed the “silver lining” of the COVID pandemic is that parents discovered alternatives to public schools and, as the statistics are telling us, they continue to act on that discovery by removing their children from them – in droves.

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Commentary: Government Is the Biggest Obstacle to Educational Freedom

In Massachusetts where I live, average private school tuition hovers around $23,000. For secular private schools, the cost is typically much higher, with Boston-area private school tuition often exceeding $40,000. This price tag is way too high for most families to afford, but emerging microschools are typically a fraction of the cost of other private education options. 

For example, the Wilder School is a new Acton Academy-affiliated microschool that costs about $12,000 a year, while Life Rediscovered, a new homeschool resource center offering up to five days a week of full-day, drop-off learning, costs about $10,000. Even established local microschools, such as Bay State Learning Center that was founded in 2014 and that I wrote about in Unschooled, have similar tuition costs and frequently offer financial aid or sliding scale tuition.

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Pennsylvania Governor Signs Budget

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Friday signed Pennsylvania’s $45 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2022-23.

The governor and Republican-controlled legislature were only able to agree to the fiscal blueprint a week after the June 30 deadline. Revenues covering budget items include $42.8 billion in state taxpayer dollars and $2 billion in federal money. 

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Commentary: Arizona’s New School Choice Bill Moves Us Closer to Milton Friedman’s Vision

“Our goal is to have a system in which every family in the U.S. will be able to choose for itself the school to which its children go,” the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman stated in 2003. “We are far from that ultimate result. If we had that, a system of free choice, we would also have a system of competition, innovation, which would change the character of education.”

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Teachers’ Unions Condemn Supreme Court Decision Upholding Religious Freedom and School Choice

National and state teachers’ unions condemned the Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday that held a Maine tuition assistance program that bars families from using the taxpayer funds for religious schools is in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Union officials denounced the ruling as one that “attacks public schools,” “erodes democracy,” “harms students,” and undermines “the separation of church and state.”

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Supreme Court Rules Maine Law Excluding Religious Schools from Tuition Assistance Is Unconstitutional

In a major decision for religious freedom and school choice, the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a Maine law that barred taxpayer tuition assistance funds from families choosing religious schools.

The Court ruled, 6-3, in Carson v. Makin, the Maine law that governs its tuition program’s exclusion of religious schools, while accepting other private schools, is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and is, therefore, unconstitutional.

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Michael Bloomberg Blames Teachers’ Unions for Keeping Money Flowing to Traditional Government Schools and Away from Charter Schools

Former Democrat New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says teachers’ unions were responsible for keeping schools locked down during the pandemic, a move that has enabled a mass exodus of students from traditional government schools throughout the country.

Given the generally poor academic achievement of America’s students, the steep drop in enrollment means states are now paying more to educate fewer children, and, “paying more for failure,” he asserts.

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Michael Bloomberg Blames Teachers’ Unions for Keeping Money Flowing to Traditional Government Schools and Away from Charter Schools

Former Democrat New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says teachers’ unions were responsible for keeping schools locked down during the pandemic, a move that has enabled a mass exodus of students from traditional government schools throughout the country.

Given the generally poor academic achievement of America’s students, the steep drop in enrollment means states are now paying more to educate fewer children, and, “paying more for failure,” he asserts.

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Thales Academy Opens First Rural County School in Pittsboro, North Carolina

Thales Academy opened the doors of its brand new building in Pittsboro, North Carolina, Monday, as about 100 students from the academy’s Cary campus moved to the new facility in rural Chatham County.

“Chatham is the first time that Thales has been in a rural county,” Bob Luddy, the founder and chairman of Thales Academy, told The Star News Network. “So, my thought was having a facility of that quality in a rural county that’s a private initiative is going to change the way people think about K-12 education.”

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Commentary: Three States Are Rethinking the Relationship Between Housing and Education Quality

Most of the nation’s 48.2 million public K-12 students are assigned to their schools based on geographic school districts or attendance zones, with few options for transferring to another public school district. This method of school assignment intertwines schooling with property wealth, limiting families’ education options according to where they can afford to live.

A 2019 Senate Joint Economic Committee report found that homes near highly rated schools were four times the cost of homes near poorly rated schools. This presents a real barrier for many families – and 56% of respondents in a 2019 Cato survey indicated that expensive housing costs prevented them from moving to better neighborhoods. The challenge has only deepened as housing prices skyrocketed during the pandemic, putting better housing and education options out of reach for many.

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Commentary: Racially Sensitive ‘Restorative’ School Discipline Isn’t Behaving Very Well

Students in shop class at school with safety goggles on

The fight outside North High School in Denver was about to turn more violent as one girl wrapped a bike chain around her fist to strike the other. Just before the attacker used the weapon, school staff arrived and restrained her, ending the fight but not the story.

Most high schools would have referred the chain-wielding girl to the police. But North High brought the two girls together to resolve the conflict through conversation. They discovered that a boy was playing them off each other. Feeling less hostile after figuring out the backstory, the girls did not fight again.

This alternative method of discipline, called “restorative practices,” is spreading across the country – and being put to the test. Many schools are enduring sharp increases in violence following the return of students from COVID lockdowns, making this softer approach a higher-stakes experiment in student safety.

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Commentary: Parents Can Fight and Defeat Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory sign with a table of books

Five years ago, hardly anyone knew what Critical Race Theory (CRT) was, but now the phrase is a common one in American households. The Marxist-based theory advocating a race-essentialist approach to education, law, public policy, and even health care, seeks to deconstruct the foundations of society and rebuild it as “antiracist,” while discriminating against whites along the way. Many people are overwhelmed with both the pervasiveness of the doctrine and the large task of fighting it.

Parents in Loudon County, VA, have tackled the issue head on, making national news by loudly criticizing CRT and electing school board members opposed to it. Such efforts, however, have been piecemeal nationwide.  

Momentum in fighting this hate-doctrine is growing, though, and many parents want to know how they can protect their children and eradicate such teaching from their local schools. Catrin Wigfall, a Policy Fellow with the Center of the American Experiment, offers some practical ways parents can fight CRT.

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Commentary: Hybrid Schools Are Reshaping Education

They’re not exactly schools, but they’re not homeschools either. They have elements of structured curriculum and institutional learning, while offering maximum educational freedom and flexibility. They provide a consistent, off-site community of teachers and learners, and prioritize abundant time at home with family. They are not cheap but they are also not exorbitant, with annual tuition costs typically half that of traditional private schools.

Hybrid schools are, in the words of Kennesaw State University Professor Eric Wearne, the “best of both worlds,” drawing out the top elements of both schooling and homeschooling while not being tied too tightly to either learning model.

Wearne studies hybrid schools and is the director of the National Hybrid Schools Project which seeks to better understand this educational approach and why it’s been gaining popularity in recent years. Wearne joined me on this week’s episode of the LiberatED Podcast to talk more about hybrid schools and how they are reshaping American education.

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Biden Education Department ‘Declares War’ on Charter Schools as School Choice Becomes Overwhelmingly Popular in America

As more families and teachers flee government schools, the Biden administration – bound to the teachers unions – has now “declared war” on charter schools, as Robert Maranto, editor of the Journal of School Choice, wrote at National Review Monday.

The Biden education department is now on a path to sabotage the federal grant program that funds charter schools, public schools that are privately managed, with its proposal of new rules that appear to actually deter applicants from seeking grants.

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Kerry McDonald: Parents’ Demand for More Education Options Has Been Met with Greater Innovation in Providing Alternatives to Public Schools

Kerry McDonald

Senior Education Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) Kerry McDonald told The Star News Network the time is ripe in America for greater innovation and entrepreneurship in providing new education models for parents exiting the government school system.

Many parents got an up-close look at what their children are learning in public schools for the first time during the pandemic school closures and subsequent remote learning, leading them to consider education alternatives.

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Review Board Approves Pennsylvania Charter School Regulations

Girl standing up in the middle of classroom

A regulatory review panel on Monday approved numerous new administrative rules imposed by Pennsylvania’s executive branch on charter schools, a move the institutions did not welcome.

Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) Chair George Bedwick, Commissioner Murray Ufberg and Commissioner Dennis Watson, all appointed to the board by Democratic state officials, voted in favor of the new regulations. Vice Chair John Mizner and Commissioner John Soroko, both Republican appointees, voted in opposition.

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