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Patrick Hampton / February 10, 2020

Stand for Our Schools

Democrats are in denial about the opportunity afforded to minorities with school choice.

Janiyah Davis is like many students across the United States, brilliant and talented, but stuck in a school that stifles her potential.

But during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address, the Philadelphia fourth grader took the spotlight. Trump presented her with an Opportunity Scholarship that would allow her to attend a public or private school of her choice. Her mother proudly stood beside her daughter as Trump announced what he says is the “next step forward in building an inclusive society.”

According to the address, 18 states have created opportunity scholarships. Janiyah, who was among many children on the waiting list for the scholarship, waits no longer.

While inclusivity and opportunity are platforms often lauded by progressive Democrats, few if any stood to support school-choice initiatives. Few if any stood to support Janiyah.

This denial is widespread — taking place across the nation, and especially back home here in Tennessee. So far, more than 57 private schools in the Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville areas have expressed interest in the state’s program for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). In Chattanooga, a groundswell of support for school choice has emerged. Yet Democrats remain staunchly opposed, arguing that this could do more harm than good.

More harm than students graduating without job skills? More harm than students who are below college standards? More harm than kids who can’t read in the fourth grade?

Since the 1990s, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has been the “nation’s report card” in evaluating the performance of students across the nation. According to the latest NAEP data, nationwide, only 35% of students in the fourth grade can “read proficiently.” Similar data is reflected within my home state and town, with just over a third of students at the local and state level being able to read “proficiently or higher.”

Students aren’t faring well. So why would Democrats be against more choices to benefit students stuck in failing schools?

The current public-school system is as follows: Grocery Store A sells you a bad apple. You complain to management only to return and purchase yet another bad apple. Grocery Store B has apples of excellent quality, but because of government regulations, you can only shop at Grocer A because you live near that grocer.

With ESAs made possible, you’d be able to shop at Grocer B with no strings attached. As more people shop elsewhere for apples, Grocer A loses money and must decide whether to stock better apples or shut down its produce section.

By contrast, if a school is failing a student, what options exist for the concerned parent? Should she send yet another complaint to the superintendent? With an ESA, a mother could move her child to a better school. Should other parents follow suit, this would prompt underperforming schools to either improve or close their doors.

This free-market approach allows schools to compete and be their greatest. It’s what any concerned parent wants for their child, but it’s what liberal-leaning teachers unions and lobbyists oppose.

It’s simple; school choice aces the test for many parents who have demanded better. It checks all the boxes of inclusivity and opportunity — the very things Democrats claim to support. Politicians aiming for reelection must get behind this movement. We believe great schools should be rewarded, and as a concerned father and education advocate, I stand with millions of parents whose children deserve better than what has been delivered. I stand with Janiyah.

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