Somehow, they didn’t see it coming. Last week, Gilbert Public Schools, one of the largest school districts in Arizona, notified 152 certified staff members that they would be without jobs for the 2021-2022 school year. And the announcement sent shockwaves throughout Arizona’s public school districts.
Parents certainly tried to warn them. They pleaded with their school districts to find safe ways to offer in-person learning. And they threatened to leave for charter schools, private schools, or homeschool if they didn’t.
But the teachers’ unions didn’t want to listen. Instead they threatened to strike if schools reopened this past fall. And many staged “sick outs” in a sorry attempt to force students to remain online. All of this despite the fact that multiple schools throughout our state had returned to in-person learning safely.
Now, Gilbert Public Schools (with others likely to follow) is learning a lesson the hard way. Parents don’t like it when schools turn their backs on them—and their children. So, they voted with their feet. And enrollment in public schools plummeted.
Gilbert saw approximately 3,900 fewer students than projected. Peoria Unified School District reported a drop in enrollment of over 2,000 students compared to last year. And a recent report from the Arizona Department of Education indicated that enrollment in public schools across the state is down around 6% while charter schools have seen an increase of 9%.
Perhaps the teachers’ unions should take an economics class. Fewer students mean fewer dollars. And few dollars mean fewer teachers.
Of course, the Democrats can’t accept this simple principle. Instead of focusing on how to serve students and parents better to boost enrollment, you’ll never guess their proposed solution. Ok. You probably did. They want to dump more money into public schools. That’s right. State representatives like Kelli Butler (D-LD28) actually think rainy day funds will solve the problem until students magically return to public schools.
But what the Democrats fail to realize is that COVID-19 enhanced the importance of school choice while providing an opportunity to revolutionize education. And parents haven’t been content to sit around and allow themselves to be held hostage by the public schools. Some went so far as to create their own solutions, including new ideas like microschools and pandemic pods.
That’s why right now is the perfect time to have a real discussion about school funding. Instead of pumping money into schools and school districts that protect their own interests first, Arizona should look to fund students instead of systems. And the state could start by expanding Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program. This would allow parents to use their tax dollars for alternative learning solutions, giving families access to the funds needed to tailor an education that best fits their children. And it would do so at a fraction of the cost.
It’s time for Arizona to take the power away from the teachers’ unions and put it in the hands of parents and students. They deserve the best education possible education and the funding to make it happen.
Let’s give our students a solution that’s centered on them. Because if this past year has taught us anything, it’s that they are really the ones who are paying the price.