Choice in education; where does legislation stand after the pandemic?

Jan 12, 2023, 2:00 PM

Utah State Representative Jeffrey Stenquist is sponsoring H.B. 303, which would prohibit school off...

Utah State Representative Jeffrey Stenquist is sponsoring H.B. 303, which would prohibit school officials from discussing political beliefs.  (Photo: Adobe Stock)

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

SALT LAKE CITY — The COVID-19 pandemic required a shift in education and its accessibility. Now, post-pandemic-peak, parents are considering different education options and questions of education legislation are being raised. 

The educational changes that came from COVID-19 

Christine Cookes Fairbanks, a fellow at the Sutherland Institute covering education policy, told KSL NewsRadio that the pandemic changed many things about education. First and foremost, the pandemic changed the relationship between students and their parents.

Further, charter school enrollment increased significantly. The number of parents who reported themselves as homeschooling more than doubled nationally and in Utah. 

More specifically, the number of Black families homeschooling their children grew five times. 

After seeing stagnant and at times declining numbers, private school enrollment is also increasing. 

According to Fairbanks, there is an education survey that shows a majority of U.S. parents support both education choice as well as increased funding for public schools and teacher raises. 

“Public policy is now taking their lead,” Fairbanks told Inside Sources host, Boyd Matheson.

Fairbanks hopes to see Utah policymakers increase education opportunities with public support and public funds in a fashion similar to Arizona’s universal education saving account.

Contextually, this gives parents the money to spend on a wide range of educational services. Such as curriculum for home education or private school tuition, and fees for exams. It could also look like a child with autism receiving funding for speech or occupational training. 

Passing education legislation

Currently, about 18 states have passed legislation to expand this idea according to Fairbanks.

“It really opens those opportunities up for parents,” she said. “I think the pandemic shifted the conversation everywhere.”

The Utah Legislature did not pass a savings account policy during its last session. However, the conversation has not gone away. 

“It is important to also recognize there is public opinion that people are supportive of both education choice and teacher raises,” said Fairbanks. “I think people are ready to invest in education and innovate in education and unite different policies that have sometimes been on separate or opposing ends of the spectrum.”

Fairbanks has observed Arizona’s education efforts and sees the benefits. “As soon as this website went live they had almost a crash in the website because so many people were trying to apply,” she said.

Overall, Fairbanks said she feels that, regardless of the difference in education choices per state, the lesson is that the demand for choice in education is there. 

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Choice in education; where does legislation stand after the pandemic?