October 1, 2020
Education choice is on the rise in Utah, according to new data.
More families are choosing charter schools, online schools, pandemic pods, or offerings through public private partnerships that give flexibility.
With the organic growth in education choice, as well as a worrisome uptick in K-12 infections stemming from traditional public school reopenings, people will no doubt be looking to the upcoming legislative session to facilitate this momentum toward education choice. The Legislature can respond by offering professional development for online teaching, creating education savings accounts, or providing more resources for homeschoolers at the state level.
Professional development for online schooling
New data show that online and virtual enrollment climbed 63% in one year. Some of this was due to an increase on the enrollment cap this year for certain online charter schools to facilitate the demand during the pandemic.
For schools not already built for online delivery, many teachers have had to climb a steep learning curve in order to deliver schooling via digital resources like Zoom or Google Classroom and record lessons for students. Professional development around creative ways to use digital resources can enhance the quality of these options for families and assist teachers in fulfilling an incredibly challenging job. In some instances, the teacher’s job has been multiplied by three – teachers are preparing versions of school for in-person, online and hybrid classes – due to the range of choices parents want.
Education savings accounts
Likewise, we can look to the increase in enrollment at My Tech High to see the increased demand for an a la carte-style education. My Tech High is a public/private partnership that gives parents the freedom to educate their student in a quasi-homeschool environment. Last year My Tech High served five states with about 8,000 students. This year, the program is serving nearly 20,000 students in eight states … a 150% increase.
My Tech High functions much like an education savings account, with some limitations in order to operate within the public system. Education savings accounts at the state level would allow education funds to follow the student and give parents the chance to purchase a range of academic programs, services, or tutors. Pandemic pods have also been cropping up around the country – small groups of families who pool together resources of education at home – to defray costs and give students some camaraderie. States that allow education savings account help facilitate this helpful option too when families need it most.
Promoting homeschool resources
There has been a threefold increase in students switching to homeschooling from public schools. Some parents are interested in homeschooling but don’t know where to start. (For some Sutherland Institute takeaways, read this article with veteran homeschoolers.) The Utah State Board of Education website hosts the affidavit and some basic links for those who want to homeschool. But they could beef up these efforts by hosting homeschooling resources and/or creating resource reviews on its website so families could vet some of the resources on the state’s official education webpage.
Education choice in its broadest form means parents choosing from among academic options based on their individual needs. It is a mindset and a culture as well as a policy environment. Utahns are developing the mindset. Policymakers can continue to offer help through prudent policies.
The year 2021 has started fast and furious in the political space. Rioting at the U.S. Capitol and the banning of our president from certain big tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter have continued the national discussion about speech and ideas.
Ensuring that Utah civics education is adequate will take a statewide commitment from more than just the Legislature (and it’s usually better when it comes from more local decisionmakers), and it will demand that we avoid simplistic solutions about teachers or schools simply needing to “do better.”
It is our republic – if we can keep it.