In August, it was reported that over the past two school years, children whose public schools were shuttered during the Covid panic were much less likely to return when they reopened. According to the American Enterprise Institute, k-12 enrollment in the 2020-2021 school year had declined by 2.7%, or about 1.2 million students nationwide.
Updated enrollment numbers and chronic absenteeism
But a new survey has revealed that between spring 2021 and spring 2022, there was a 9% drop in families saying their children were enrolled in a government-run school – a plunge of about 4 million students. At the same time, the number of children in charters, private schools, and homeschools shot up. While the dropout numbers aren’t actual data, there is no doubt that a massive education exodus is underway.
Another sign of turbulence is the number of children who are still enrolled in district schools but are “chronically absent,” meaning that they miss more than 10% of school days for any reason. Per the U.S. Department of Education, at least 10.1 million students were chronically absent during the first full year of the Covid-19 pandemic. The data, collected for the 2020-21 school year, is a substantial increase from the approximately 8 million students chronically absent in the prior years. Excessive absences have serious consequences – kids’ learning suffers, and they are more likely to get suspended in middle school, and are at greater risk of dropping out of high school.
The future does not promise a reversal. In fact, chronic absence continued to surge during the 2021-2022 school year. Although no national data have been released yet, several diverse states – Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and California – claim that high absentee rates doubled in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Money flows in; no accountability required
While increasing numbers of kids are either dropping out or playing hooky, the government is pouring massive piles of accountability-free cash in an attempt to stanch the bleeding. Tony Kinnett, Executive Director of Chalkboard Review, reports that typical of large American school districts, Chicago now spends over $29,000 per student, compared to $17,800 per student in 2020. At the same time, district enrollment has decreased by 8.9% since 2020, with the Chicago Sun-Times projecting an additional 2.8% decrease in 2023, and only 26% of high school juniors can read or do math at grade-level.
In New York State, schools now spend on average $34,272 per student (including federal COVID aid) with no accountability strings attached. In 2019, before the devastating shutdowns, only 34% of the state’s eighth-grade students performed at or above the National Assessment of Educational Progress proficiency level for math, 32% of eighth graders were at or above proficient in reading, and 30% were at or above proficient in science.
Then there are the feds, led by Clueless Joe Biden. According to Fox News, Biden’s 2023 fiscal budget calls for $468 million to fund a “community schools” program that focuses on utilizing “culturally relevant” pedagogy ( a polite way of sneaking Critical Race theory into schools) and “restorative justice” practices, which turns teachers into therapists, emphasizes “making the victim and offender whole,” and involves “an open discussion of feelings.” Nothing about teaching kids to read and write or holding anybody accountable for anything.
The teachers unions attempt to woo parents
The teachers unions are in a collective snit about the current upheaval. Sensing that parents are not happy with schools, the unions are trying to unite with them. In late September, the American Federation of Teachers announced that it was awarding more than $1.5 million to 27 state and local affiliates. The union’s website asserts that the money will go “toward efforts to organize parents and educators, providing training to support advocacy campaigns, and increasing collaboration among union affiliates and other organizations in communities.”
That’s like the wolf trying to unite with Little Red Riding Hood. But then again, there is nothing really new here. The unions and the PTA have been in bed together for some time now. In 2001, Thomas Toch, scholar at the Brookings Institution, disclosed that the “PTA has particularly strong ties to teacher unions. Charlotte Frass, chief Washington lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers, said, ‘We often lobby together.’”
Ties also exist to the National Education Association. “One of the PTA’s three Washington lobbyists is married to an NEA lobbyist, and from the founding of the PTA’s Washington legislative office in 1978 through 1993, its lobbyists were housed in rent-reduced offices in the NEA’s headquarters a few blocks from the White House.”
More recently, Daily Wire writer Luke Rosiak noted, “National PTA board member Eric Champy was on the board of the NEA for years. After losing a race for president of the Massachusetts teachers’ union in 2018, he was elected to the National PTA Board of Directors in June 2019.”
While parents should most definitely shun the PTA, there are myriad organizations worthy of their attention. On a national level No Left Turn in Education, Parents Defending Education and Moms for Liberty are just a few of the many groups for parents who are disgusted with the direction government-run education is going in, and are not shy about letting their thoughts be known. In August, for example, Moms for Liberty, which claims to have 195 chapters in 37 states with almost 100,000 members, tweeted in response to union president Randi Weingarten sharing an article about health care for transgender children: “Randi kept schools closed, masked our kids & is now promoting the mutilation and sterilization of children…Time to put the k-12 cartel out of business.”
Also, in Oakland, CA a newly formed coalition of parents, dissatisfied with the state of their kids’ public school education, is trying to get a seat at the table when the Oakland Unified School District negotiates a new contract with the teachers union.
Education freedom advances in two states
The ultimate in parent power lies in educational freedom. And two embattled universal choice measures both green-lighted recently.
On March 29, West Virginia passed the most expansive school choice program in the country to date. Under the new law, all parents are given unrestrained options. If parents choose a private school for their kids, they will receive 100 percent of their state education dollars – $4,600 annually – to help defray expenses. In addition to private school tuition, parents can use the funding to homeschool or for other education expenses.
However, the new law was blocked by a Charleston-area judge in July after she ruled that the program violates the state’s constitutional mandate to provide “a thorough and efficient system of free schools.” But on October 6, the state Supreme Court issued an order reversing the lower court’s ruling.
Also, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed HB 2853 into law in July, making every family in the Grand Canyon State eligible for an educational savings account. Participants will receive about $6,400 per year per child, which can be used at the parents’ discretion for private school, homeschooling, learning pods, tutoring, or any other kinds of educational services that best fit their kids’ needs outside the traditional public school system. Any family that wishes to opt out of their local public school – or who already has – would be allowed to join the ESA program.
However, a teacher union-backed group that opposes school choice, Save Our Schools Arizona (SOS), attempted to put the ESA program to a vote in a ballot referendum. If successful, this would have put the law’s implementation on hold, pending the outcome of a popular vote on the measure in 2024. But the signature gathering fell way short, and the ESA will go forth. This was a huge win for the families of Arizona.
Exit doors are slowly but surely opening, and parents are fleeing the public education plantation. The exodus is advancing!
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.