Cases of COVID-19 continue to spread rapidly in our community, impacting each of us and our families in different ways and leaving us with differing views on how best to weather the coronavirus storm. This extends to our views on our children’s safety and education.
In the current system, only families with means are able to consider all of the education options, including public schools, private schools and homeschooling. Families without these resources must abide by the limited choices offered by the local public school district. In many cases, the only alternative is for a family to move. Thankfully, many public school districts offered a new, online option this year for those wishing to avoid fluctuations between face-to-face, hybrid and online instruction models.
Our public schools provide so much for our communities beyond the education they provide our children. They help tie the bonds of society as children and parents socialize together, often becoming friends while watching a soccer game or a swim meet. Public schooling also allows parents, especially those with limited financial and social resources, the opportunity to work and earn a living for their family.
However, despite all the good public schools bring to our community, many parents are angry and frustrated by the current one-size-fits-all guidelines. Some are angry because they believe the benefits of face-to-face education outweigh the potential costs. Others are angry because they believe our schools are not adequately protecting our children and school employees by continuing to have face-to-face/hybrid education amidst a spike in infections.
They are both right to be angry!
The answer for communities and families with different perspectives lies outside the power of a single school board. The answer is to increase the menu of options available to families; the answer is increased school choice.
One school choice option currently withheld from families in North Dakota is charter public schools. North Dakota is one of only five states without a law allowing families to access public charter schools. A public charter school is one that is funded publicly yet operates independently from the traditional school district. This independence gives charter schools greater flexibility to design innovative approaches to meet families’ needs.
In some states charter schools operate online academies. This has been the case in Minnesota for over a decade. In other states, charter schools have opened for face-to-face instruction while the local public schools remained online. Even in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, many parochial and private schools are offering different guidelines and models of instruction than the local public schools. Their independence from the public school district enables them to do so, but only families with the ability to pay tuition are currently able to consider these options.
As an economist, I study the science of choices. When it comes to K-12 education, it’s time to give every family in North Dakota the power of school choice.
Jackson is the director of the North Dakota State University Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise and professor of economics in the NDSU Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.