Republican legislators in Colorado issued a call earlier this week for a special legislative session to address the gestating issue of what to do with our schoolchildren this fall. One of the bigger problems to be tackled is how, exactly, children in poorer families are going to access the educational resources they need if the schools are not open. In their letter, the GOP lawmakers proposed a rather elegant solution: take whatever portion of the per-pupil funding is necessary, and redirect that from shuttered classrooms to the parents of those students to provide the needed resources.
This is an appealing solution to a problem being created largely by the state, school boards, and the teacher’s unions. If schools are to not open — or partially open, or open part-time, or whatever the proposed schema is this week — then the money previously allocated to those facilities ought to go to where it is needed and can be best used for its ostensible function — the education of young people.
State Sen. Bob Gardner was quoted as saying, "The legislature needs to meet now to ensure that single parent families and our most economically challenged parents have the economic resources to provide for their children's education.” It is not a specious argument. Whatever happens this fall, the wealthy family that can afford the requisite laptops, books (at least those which are still to be allowed), and other resources will probably make out just fine. What of the family on the poverty line who is denied these resources, but will simultaneously be locked out of the local classroom?
The local teacher’s unions, for whom the actual delivery of education and transfer of knowledge is an inconvenient side issue, has not yet, at the time of writing this, responded, but they are sure to be vehemently opposed. For starters, if the CEA did happen to support any proposal which improved the education of society’s young it would simply be a coincidence they would need to revisit later; and besides, any proposal that serves to dilute their monopolistic hegemony is automatically anathema.
To be sure, the GOP plan has little hope of succeeding; first, it would require the special session they are calling for, which requires either a two-thirds majority of the legislature to approve — which is not going to happen given Democratic majorities in both chambers — or for the governor to call one. That's an action for which Gov. Polis, notwithstanding his school-choice bona fides, has not indicated much appetite. Even if he comes around, there is little chance of the Democratic-controlled legislature adopting the plan. The teacher’s unions may not care much for education, but they do know a thing or two about exerting political influence.
This is not, of course, to say the proposal does not have merit. Parents around the state, and the country for that matter, are growing increasingly anxious for their children, cognizant of the importance of schooling, frustrated by school boards who appear unable to come up with a simple formula for safely opening schools (and which have little incentive to do so, being the only game in town), and especially with the teacher’s unions which are exploiting the whole situation, holding the school year hostage for extraneous purposes.
If there is a flaw in the GOP-led proposal, it is one of expediency — it is an incomplete solution, rectifying the immediate problem, as it ought, but not addressing the more systemic fault of the education system. Despite Democratic leaders attempting to paint it with the brush of “vouchers,” the proposal falls far short of that. But since they brought it up, might now not be the time to dust off that option?
The Supreme Court last month, in a fit of reason, removed one of the most insidious obstacles to education opportunity in the country by (finally) recognizing the repugnant Blaine Amendments as unconstitutional. These were the Know-Nothing-era relics of anti-Catholic bigotry which forbid public education dollars from going to “sectarian” schools, and were used disingenuously as the reason for disallowing school tax credit, voucher and other effective school choice measures.
The combination of this happy development with the current confused bumbling in school boards, union intransigence, and parental frustration may succeed (where previously mere poor performance and depressing educational results did not) in illuminating a path to real educational reform. In any case, the contentions we are witnessing at the moment concerning the schools reveals the need for fresh thinking, which is not something the existing monopolized system is conducive to.