Now in its twelfth year, National School Choice Week kicks off this week with 26,000 independently planned events spanning all 50 states. Every January, supporters of parents as the architects of their children’s educational journeys gather in school fairs, open houses, student showcases and other public events to raise awareness about school choice. Nationally, thirty-one governors have issued proclamations supporting an estimated 26,000 events going on all over the country. Lamentably, Democratic controlled blue states like California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York have failed to recognize the school choice celebrations, too-beholden to teachers’ unions which play an outsized role in elections and the delivery of zip-code educational policies in their states.
Nonetheless, the fight for school choice continues to grow, with multiple state legislatures seeking ways to revise funding formulas to not only support greater access to charter schools and homeschooling options, but to provide educational savings accounts for parents to choose the best option for their child. Rather than funding “the system,” there is a noticeable growing drive to fund “the child,” enabling money to go with the student to the school of their choice—rather than forcing a child to remain in their “neighborhood” school even when state officials identify that school as a chronically academically underperforming school.
One of California’s largest events will take place at the Santa Ana Zoo, hosted by Parents Union headed by President Cecilia Iglesias who also serves as board member of Orange County’s newly authorized Explore Academy Charter School. I will address the rally this year, joined by acclaimed school choice advocates like Larry Sand, President of the California Teachers Empowerment Network and Lance Izumi, , Senior Director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute, and author of several books including an upcoming volume on homeschooling.
Earlier this year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his education spending plan amounting to some $119 billion including local, state and federal sources, raising per-pupil spending to $20,855, and making California one of the highest spending states in the country.
California does not suffer for lack of financing. Almost half of each annual California budget is dedicated to education, yet reforms which would close academic learning gaps are typically defeated by the union affiliated California Legislature. Today, just 34% of California 4th-graders scored proficient in math on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), placing the state 44th nationwide.
The statistics are even more bleak for Latinos and African American pupils where some 80% of African-American children do not meet state-identified proficiency standards in reading and/or mathematics; 70% for Latino children.
This year, the annual event which spotlights education options and opportunities in K-12 education takes place against a renewed, robust parent rights movement combatting local school boards’ efforts to adopt curriculums exacerbating racial divisions in the schools and the failure to protect the physical safety of students. The nation watched with horror as a father was wrestled to the ground and arrested for trying to get information about the sexual assault of his daughter in her own school! Spurred by these incredible actions, last November’s gubernatorial victory of Glenn Youngkin in Virginia became a watershed moment for parents of all political persuasions uniting to flex their muscles on behalf of their children.
Despite such, parents are witnessing cynical and efforts to suppress their voice, including being counter-sued by district and union officials for filing Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests and showing up at Board meetings to voice their views.
Parents are fighting back, including efforts to recall their school board members—even in politically woke San Francisco. While some school boards have agreed to work with parents, others are reinforcing their disdain for the very parents they are elected to represent. “No, I don’t work for you,” declared Richard Robinson a member of the York Suburban School Board in an op-ed published just days before the national celebration. Another school board President shut down the school board meeting two minutes into the meeting when faced with non-mask wearing parents.
Earlier this year, the San Ramon Valley Unified School Board in northern California shut down its meeting five minutes after it started because of shouting from protestors, many whom refused to wear face masks. “Cowards! Cowards,” shouted parents when the meeting was abruptly adjourned by board members rather than listening to the concerns of parents. Similarly, in southern California, the Placenta-Yorba school district shut down its meeting less than five minutes after it started rather than face parents—some mask less–regarding their objections to their children being forced to wear masks for hours during the school day.
Most egregious anti-parent actions are occurring under the Biden-Harris Administration, where we have learned that the FBI is targeting parents as “domestic terrorists.” U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona appears to have solicited a National School Boards Association letter comparing parents to domestic terrorists. Emails obtained through FOIA request show collaboration between the Department of Education, the Department of Justice, and the National School Boards Association. The National School Boards Association sent the Biden administration a letter last September asking it to use the Patriot Act and other statutes to stop threats and violence toward school board members over actions that could be “the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
Four days after the letter was sent, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo to the FBI calling on them to “use its authority” against parents who threaten or commit violence on public school officials.
These actions to stifle parents are despicable and investigations are needed to get to the roots of how these were ordered and what parents have been targeted because they spoke up and spoke out against tyrannical policies imposed on them by school boards that should have been looking out for kids—not politically connected special interest groups. Yet, as egregious as these actions have been, we have seen that parents who seek to advocate for their children have long been punished by school boards and school districts who have come to believe that kids belong to them—not their parents—and any movement to choose a school option other than that which is forcibly assigned to them by a school district bureaucrat based on their zip code has come to mean a financial fight to be launched against that parent.
Hence, amid this week’s observances for National School Choice Week, I will speak about some of the original parents who were treated as criminals and the equivalent of a “domestic terrorist” before the label became used under this Administration. Parents have been criminally charged for “theft of educational services” for enrolling their child in an affluent school outside their home ZIP code. For example, ten years ago in 2012 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Hamlet Garcia faced felony counts and had to go to trial in one of Pennsylvania’s wealthiest districts for enrolling their 5-year-old daughter in a school outside their ZIP-code-based district. Had he been convicted; he could have been imprisoned for seven years.
That case started when the Garcia’s decided to maritally separate. The child and Mrs. Garcia went to live with her father in adjacent Montgomery County. Eventually, the Garcia’s reconciled, and rather than further disrupting their daughter’s life, the parents decided to let her complete the remaining months of the school year in her new school. The Montgomery County school district, using an obscure law more commonly used against cable-television piracy, had the parents arrested and charged with felony theft of educational services. The Garcia’s offered to make financial restitution but were denied. I was so struck by that case when I first learned about it that I actually flew out to “the city of brotherly love” to witness that trial unfold. While not convicted of a felony, Mr. Garcia was forced to plea to a lower charge to avoid imprisonment.
The Garcia case addresses multiple issues in the education reform movement, including the fight for open enrollment and an end to automatic ZIP-code-based registration. It also resurrects questions over “separate but equal” schooling patterns and raises questions over whether schools should hire investigators to determine the veracity of marital separations—especially since almost half of all marriages end in divorce. Are school district funds well spent on placing tails on separated parents and where their children go to reside?
And he is not alone. In 2011 Ohio’s Kelley Williams-Bolar was convicted for enrolling her child in a higher performing school district. It took an online petition from outraged signatories demanding a gubernatorial of a commutation of her sentencing to set her free. It was referred to as a “Rosa Parks” moment for education and education reform in the School Choice Movement, and today, both she and Hamlet Garcia are actively involved in supporting parents facing criminalization due to their fight to ensure their children have quality educational choices.
Which parent will be next? Given the horrendous treatment of parents by this anti-parent administration and their local lackeys—all at the behest of its teachers’ union financiers–we can expect to be in this fight for some time to come. All the more reason to support this year’s School Choice Week and make your voice—and vote—count.
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