I was recently invited by Rick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute to write a paper sharing my thoughts on the next major challenge conservatives should be focused on in education.
Serendipitously, this request came shortly after I joined a working group hosted by the great Ben Austin, a longtime leader in education reform efforts in California who comes at the issue from a progressive point of view. Our group was focused on efforts to encourage states to pass constitutional amendments that guarantee access to a high-quality education. It’s a provocative and timely idea, but I quickly noticed a lack of conservative voices in the discussion.
My experience at the U.S. Department of Education during the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act was a crash course in how hard it is for local bureaucracies to change habits and how local control in underserved communities doesn’t necessarily mean parental or community control. I realize that one can always impact a district’s decisions by becoming more active in school board elections or moving to a district with more high-performing schools, but these are not options for families in low-income communities.
Accountability in public education has always been a strong conservative value, and so is the freedom to make the best choices for yourself and your family. If conservatives really care about parental choice and community empowerment, they should also be in favor of ways to give parents some recourse when they are not being served well by the schools their children attend. Rather than only push for greater options outside of public schools, using legislative means, why not also influence collective action, using legal tools, to impact change?
I think this is more important now than ever before in the wake of COVID-19 and the racial unrest our county is facing. Both accentuate the need for families to have access to a great public education that is responsive to their needs and one that ensures not just equitable access but also strives for excellent outcomes.
I believe this proposal has the best chance to attract the progressives on the left who seem to be talking a lot more about accountability these days—especially with respect to law enforcement and healthcare, for example. I suspect the moment we are in is making many people second guess the wisdom of trying to take us back to the days when we simply poured money into programs without any accountability.
Nina Rees is the president & CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Read the full think piece, A Constitutional Right for a High-Quality Public Education