States primarily fund schools based on the number of students enrolled. Thus, after decades of red tape, public schools may face budget cuts or growing deficits if they fail to regain parental trust. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District, which was already losing students before the pandemic, lost 21,000 students last year. If this decline in enrollment is permanent, the district would expect to receive about $ 250 million less in state funding than it would otherwise receive. For LAUSD, a district that has increased its non-teaching staff positions by 17% since 2014 and already faced serious long-term budget and retirement issues, the increased costs associated with declining enrollment is a recipe for financial disaster.
Meanwhile, public schools are facing competition like never before. Before the pandemic, public schools were the only thing most families knew. Today, however, millions of families have taken advantage of the benefits and flexibility of home schooling, online schools, small pods, and private schools.
With so many public schools delaying reopening for in-person learning last school year, a staggering 11.1% of families are now home-schooled, more than double the April 2020 levels. , according to the Census Bureau. And a parent survey by Tyton Partners finds that around 1.3 million students are enrolled in micro-schools or pods, where small groups of students have learned together in homes or community centers. with the help of a teacher.
In addition to the 3% of students who left public schools last year, millions more have sought personalized enrichment opportunities to supplement or compensate for lackluster public schools. The survey found that 12% of parents enrolled their children in additional learning modules, which also produced greater parental satisfaction.
Public schools have long failed to close the achievement gap between high-income students and disadvantaged students. But the pandemic has made middle-class families increasingly recognize the shortcomings of the system as well. Last year, California public schools lost 160,000 students, half of whom were white and mostly from the middle and upper classes, according to the state Department of Education. Surveys show that the home schooling boom has been largely attributed to families earning between $ 35,000 and $ 150,000 per year and this demographic also represents almost half of families participating in learning modules.
Even state legislators are noticing these trends. Eighteen states have recently adopted or expanded school choice programs. Now, States should modernize education financing systems so that all families, even those who remain enrolled in local public schools, have access to more educational options.
Education savings accounts, already implemented in states like Florida and Arizona, allow parents to use a portion of public education funding to purchase educational services from multiple providers such as tutors, special education therapies and other programs. The West Virginia Hope Scholarship Program provides parents with access to education funding to pay for educational expenses such as transportation costs, extracurricular activities, private lessons, and more. Likewise, Idaho’s Advance Opportunity program offers families a set amount that students in Grades 7 through 12 can spend on enrichment opportunities, such as advanced courses and professional certifications.
It is clear that many parents and students do not want to go back to the failed status quo. To win back families, public education funds should be unbundled so that families can personalize their children’s education. If the pandemic has taught us anything about public schools, it’s that parents, not bureaucrats, care for students.