Conservatives are blowing their opportunity to remake education
Conservatives are missing a vital opportunity to remake American education. For the first time in our history, millions of schoolchildren will not have a public school to attend in the fall. Warranted or not, coronavirus fears present conservatives with an opportunity to offer an alternative to traditional public-school education, but they have yet to propose one.
For more than half a century, conservatives have been waging a war against the American educational system. To their credit, they have a point. In most states, it costs far more to send a child to a public school than to a private school. Activist teachers indoctrinate children to hate their country and its history; prayer is out of the classroom. The powerful teachers’ unions are, in many cases, a political arm of the Democratic Party in most cities. Not to mention that children who attend private or some charter schools, or who home-school, typically perform better in standardized testing and are more prepared for college than their peers in public schools.
Conservatives have spent decades trying to support alternatives to public school with some success. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, the number of children enrolled in either private schools, charter schools or home-schooling increased to 10.5 million in 2016, up from 7.7 million in 1999. The number, while increasing substantially, still pales in comparison to the 47.3 million children who attend public schools.
As devastating as the coronavirus has been to the wealth and wellbeing of Americans, it has offered a valuable opportunity for conservatives to move a number of children out of the public school system permanently.
Republican governors and mayors could have enacted substantial reforms by offering financial incentives to parents to home-school their children during the pandemic. Taking funds from states’ or cities’ education budgets, and redirecting them to parents, could have been a positive change that voters might accept, especially given that most want schools to remain closed, according to a poll by the Washington Post. Sending direct funds to families also would help alleviate some of their financial pressures, especially when many must choose between going to work and sending their children to school.
For instance, if a state were to allocate funds normally used for reasons other than teachers’ and administrators’ salaries and benefits, it would result in thousands of dollars being sent back to working- and middle-class families. According to the U.S. Census, that would be around $4,700 per pupil in Ohio, or nearly $5,500 per pupil in Pennsylvania. If a parent has more than one child, they would receive a larger amount. A family with three children in a Pennsylvania public school would receive about $16,500 to home-school. This would certainly help offset the costs that parents feel as they try to juggle working with remote learning.
Regardless of receiving a financial incentive, many parents are choosing to home-school their children during the coronavirus pandemic. Home-school applications are on the rise nationwide, and conservatives should use the opportunity to get involved in the curriculum that parents are being offered.
This is the time when conservative institutions should be pressing parents to teach their children about classics, literature and a perspective on history that doesn’t teach them that the American system of government is inherently evil. Places such as Hillsdale College already offer some form of K-12 classical education, but it’s time that conservative legislators offer that kind of teaching as a widespread alternative to home-schooling parents.
For too long, Republicans assumed that if they just relied on the free market, parents would pick a more conservative education for their children. But that isn’t always the case. Conservatives can use the state to incentivize parents to pursue this type of education and impress upon children the values that we take for granted.
The coronavirus pandemic may have destroyed many things, but the opportunity to rebuild and create a more conservative future is out there. Simply reopening the public schools isn’t the answer.
Ryan Girdusky is a veteran strategist of New York City and national political campaigns and the author of “They’re Not Listening: How the Elites Created the National Populist Revolution” (June 2020).