After yet another nationwide wave of school closures blamed on Covid-19, parents are uniting in questioning the need for the closures and lamenting their devastating effects on student learning and well-being. This is a major switch in parental opinion.
For decades, most American parents have trusted public schools to deliver an adequate education to their children, free of harmful teachers union and school board politics, financial mismanagement, the dilution of academic standards and expectations, and divisive ideological indoctrination. Now, the effects of the Covid response on K-12 education are causing many parents to question whether that trust was, and remains, well-placed.
Even before Covid, evidence existed of the trend toward “dumbing down” American public education expectations. Along with this perilous trend, in a number of documented instances, the response to Covid has included policies and outcomes that are creating a serious and, perhaps, irreversible breach of the historic relationship of trust between most parents and local public schools.
These developments include:
- Prolonged school closings that damage learning, with children from lower-income neighborhoods disproportionately affected;
- Union politics, including pressuring the Biden administration on school closures and voting not to return to classrooms for critical in-person instruction;
- Neglect of the mental health issues arising from unnecessarily depriving young children and teenagers of normal social interaction with their peers;
- Financial mismanagement of Covid funds for public schools, including the misuse of funds to advance a controversial anti-racism curriculum;
- Ideological indoctrination from both political perspectives; and
- Disrespect and in some cases hostility toward objecting parents, such as the National School Board Association cooperating with the White House to label vocal parents as domestic terrorists.
To the relief of many parents, then, it appears the U.S. Supreme Court may be poised to open legal doors the more state programs that provide many parents access to better schooling for their children.
Since the 1960s, most Americans have viewed a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions as requiring that the public funding of K-12 education be used exclusively to establish a system of religion-hostile government-run schools. Typically, such a narrow approach has left religious families with four choices: pay tuition directly to religious schools; spend countless hours and financial resources on homeschooling; rely on one hour of weekly Sunday-school lessons for the religious education of their children; or surrender their children to the secular state system.
Meanwhile, leftists are filling the void left by the religious hostility of publicly funded K-12 schools with quasi-religious indoctrinating speech and “action civics” relating to social justice, social and emotional learning, critical race theory, environmental justice and climate change, sexual orientation and gender identity, and United Nations-compliant human rights education.
This heightens the importance of the pending U.S. Supreme Court case Carson v. Makin, in which the court will decide whether Maine officials may prohibit the use of state funds at private religious schools that actively teach religion. Maine awards state tuition dollars to parents who reside in townships without a public secondary school, so they can educate their children in the private schools of their choice.
Based on recent oral arguments in the case, it appears that a majority of the justices are of the opinion that, in aiding some parents for the education of their children, Maine officials may not discriminate among different religions. Specifically, the Supreme Court is likely to decide that Maine cannot deny state aid to parents to educate their children in private religious schools.
During the oral arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts inquired of Maine’s legal counsel about whether it would send public funds to religious schools that don’t teach religion expressly. Roberts received confirmation that Maine would permit such a practice, and he expressly labeled it discriminatory under the court’s precedent.
It appears many parents are experiencing a “great awakening,” resulting in their desire for more choices for the education of their children. With the encouragement of the U.S. Supreme Court, elected officials may be forced to re-evaluate allowing a government school monopoly that stifles healthy competition for the hearts and minds of parents and their children.