This week, roughly 19,000 West Virginia teachers went on strike, closing down every public school in the state in a united resistance against educational choice. Now, after only two days, the strike is over, with the legislation in question dead on arrival in the state House.
It marks a defeat against student opportunity and a victory for union-induced conformity and the dismal status quo of public education in West Virginia—a state that consistently sits at the bottom of nation-wide education rankings.
In addition to raising teacher pay by five percent, the proposed law, Senate Bill 451, would have allowed for the establishment of charter schools and state-sponsored education savings accounts—features that neither the teachers’ union nor Republican Gov. Jim Justice would abide. “For crying out loud,” Justice said. “We have to concentrate on our public schools.”
Yet, as Senate President Mitch Carmichael noted, such a move isn’t about dismantling or ignoring standard public schools, the teachers of which would have gotten a pay raise through the bill. It’s about creating more educational opportunity and dynamism across the state, which would serve to benefit public schools in the long-term, should they rise to the challenge.
“There is a vital need to reform West Virginia’s education system, and I do not believe that any true transformation comes through a pay raise alone,” Carmichael said. “Our families deserve competition, choice, and flexibility.”
There’s a moral argument to this, of course—that regardless of outcomes, families ought to have a say in how their taxpayer money is used in their child’s education. There’s a moral cost when government constrains human freedom and inhibits the development of distinct and diverse moral communities. It’s about far more than budgetary concerns.
But there’s a practical argument, as well—that expanding school choice brings a wide range of educational and economic benefits, both to students and public institutions. According to data from a growing number of studies, it’s an argument that has robust empirical support.
At a recent Acton event, J.C. Huizenga, founder of National Heritage Academies and a member of the Acton Institute Board of Directors, summarized some of this evidence, highlighting the educational and fiscal results of public vs. charter schools.
Huizenga points to a study by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, which found that children who attended one of his National Heritage Academy charter schools performed better in math and reading than those in public schools.
Further, citing a recent study from the Mackinac Center, ”Doing More with Less: The Charter School Advantage in Michigan,” Huizenga notes the return on investment to taxpayers from educational diversity—a return that could then be funneled and re-invested back into educational institutions and resources, if taxpayers so desired.
“Charter schools are funded at a discount of $2,782,” Huizenga explains. “…Based on that number, and the fact that we educate somewhere around 37,000 students in Michigan alone…that number is over $100 million in savings, just in the current year.
West Virginia’s teachers’ union is ultimately concerned about the security of public schools from the perspective of government funding. There really is no other argument being made. Yet new opportunities and fresh challenges would serve to strengthen student options, embolden communities and, indeed, be sure to boost educational resources overall.
In announcing the walkout, West Virginia union leader Fred Albert proudly declared, “We are taking action!”— relishing in his union’s resistance to educational opportunity and blind self-protectionism. Now that the strike is over and the status quo of educational mediocrity and conformity has been duly secured, who will rise and “take action” for the students, families, and taxpayers?