January 11th, 2021
Opinion By Jim Maas.
Former school teacher and Second District Representative to Libertarian Party of Wisconsin Executive Committee.
Providing a good education to our youth and young citizens benefits Wisconsin. Quality education is now in much more danger than the health of students during a pandemic. Wisconsin families have been poorly served when it comes to K–12 education provided by government schools.
While schools have been consistently failing to meet the education needs of thousands of children in Wisconsin for years, lately, many government schools won’t even let students into their classrooms due to irrational fears over the COVID pandemic.
The American Institute for Economic Research recently noted: “Significant evidence shows that a truncated school year supplemented with online learning is vastly inferior to the education children get in-person. Virtual learning is particularly harmful to students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds who do not have sufficient resources to support their learning”.
Meanwhile, other studies and data show fears of schools becoming incubators for renewed surges of COVID-19 infections are grossly exaggerated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, just 168 kids 17 or under have died from COVID-19 through Dec. 19. That’s less than 0.05% of the total of nearly 300,000 COVID-19 deaths. By comparison, adults aged 65 to 74 accounted for more than 21% of the total deaths.
Studies this year by peer-reviewed journals back these data up. “COVID-19 is generally a mild disease in children, including infants,” a study in the British medical journal Lancet found.
The New York Times recently reported: “Researchers once feared that school reopening’s might spread the virus through communities. But so far there is little evidence that it’s happening”.
Irrational? Statistically, the demographic most at risk for a fatal outcome from COVID are senior citizens, not school students or staff. How is it possible that public school teachers, administrators, or school board members are ignoring these facts? Or, don’t they care?
Perhaps this will get their attention. Many families have found other choices. The situation has gotten to the point where thousands of Wisconsin families are pulling their kids out of traditional government schools. Several school districts have already reported significant reductions in enrollment. Private schools, offering in-class opportunities and greater academic achievement, are growing.
Wisconsin government school enrollments fell by 3% (so far), the largest drop in decades and private schools saw an increase. The Department of Public Instruction reports that government school enrollment is down over 25,000 students. However, opportunities for classroom learning continue and maybe even improve. Some studies have shown that private schools outperform government schools for less money.
To a society, it matters less whether students are educated in a private or government school as long as quality education takes place. However, it may make a difference to politicians. Local and state governments are responsible for education, not the federal government.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”.
Liberty to choose? Incredibly, at a time when more Wisconsin families are opting out of an education system that has failed to put students first during a health crisis, Congress now is restricting some the options which are needed.
“America’s students—especially those from lower income, working class, and special needs families who have been more harmed by the pandemic—deserved better”, John Schilling, president of the American Federation for Children, which advocates for greater educational choice. The group says $2.75 billion for the Governors Emergency Education Relief fund comes with new limits on funding to launch or expand school choice programs. The new stimulus bill explicitly excludes “vouchers, tuition tax credit programs, education savings accounts, scholarship programs, or tuition assistance programs for elementary and secondary education.”
The position of the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin is that education is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Schools should be managed locally to achieve greater accountability and parental involvement.