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02.13.2023 0

As Republican states move towards more school choice, don’t forget to hire more teachers

By Robert Romano

Republican-led states including Florida and Utah are moving towards private schools to accommodate growing demand among conservatives, libertarians and Republicans for an alternative to public education systems that have long been dominated by the cultural left and Democrats.

It is little wonder.

A 2016 survey by Education Week found that only 27 percent of teachers were Republicans versus 41 percent Democrat and 30 percent independents. In higher education, the advantage is more like 10 to 1. And the situation is only worsening.

Lack of Republican representation in these professions is nothing new. And it is hardly confined to education. In civil service positions, the Democrats’ advantage is 2 to 1. Democrats have a 3 to 1 advantage in publishing and information technology and 4 to 1 in media production.

George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley noted in a recent oped to The Hill: “For elementary, middle and high schools, voucher programs may allow parents to speak with their feet. I hope we do not come to that — but the opposition to vouchers is telling. The alarm is based on the recognition that, given a choice, many families would not choose what public schools are offering. This includes many minority families who want to escape from a cycle of education that leaves many students barely literate and lost. They likely would prefer an alternative to a system like Baltimore’s, where a student failed all but three classes and still graduated in the top half of his class.”

Such dominance has reached a breaking point. At the school level, parents have had enough of “diverse and inclusive”, equity-based, critical race programs that have traded away traditional American values like freedom of speech but also equality, color-blindness and civil rights in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr.  who taught us to treat each other not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.

But after Covid public school lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 and repeated instances of parents being openly attacked at school board meetings and even having Justice Department investigations of parents arising as a result, now Republican states are springing into action with a renewed push for private education—with public funds, whether in the form of tax credits or vouchers.

But who’s going to teach at these new center-right schools?

College admissions are breaking almost 2 to 1 female, with further breakdowns on partisan affiliation as women tend to vote Democratic and men tend to vote Republican, on the margins. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, in 2020-2021 the breakdown was 59.5 percent female, and 40.5 percent male. And it’s not because of discrimination.

There is a pervasive “no college” message among conservatives that apparently has gotten through loud and clear in recent years, but what it means is that the next generation of jobs including in education but also health, law and the sciences, that require a degree will be more left-wing than ever.

Anecdotally, I was once on track to be an art teacher before the political bug bit in the early 2000s and I changed my major to political science. Just what the world needed, another conservative pundit! But at a younger age, was I impacted by conservative messaging that suggested public schools were dominated by the left? I cannot say with certainty. But I was definitely one less Republican teacher. I still regret it.

Republicans actually need young people to take their places in these institutions, and hopefully achieve more balanced perspectives in education. Men, who disproportionately vote Republican, generally would still need to go to college to get a degree in education to teach in order to get the job at these schools. But fewer men are going to college and may not value the need for education to build the schools conservatives say they want in the future.

Why is there no push in Republican states to become educators? We can do vouchers or tax credits all day long, but if we want balanced education, at least a few of us have to become teachers.

If schools are not good in red states, either, that’s on Republican governors and legislatures for not recruiting better talent and urging at least a few of their kids to get into the profession.

The truth is Republicans have been blasting the quality of K-12 public education for more than 40 years, and yet despite demand for more alternatives, private school enrollment is actually lower today than it was in 1995 even as public school enrollment has steadily risen to more than 50 million. Parents who homeschool are making a sacrifice but it might not be the most efficient solution.

85 percent of Americans, which include Republicans, still depend on public schools, and in charter school cities like New York City, they must resort to lotteries because of limited availability of seats.

So, whether red states opt for public or private school options, the fact is somebody still has to work there. As Republican states rightly pursue these alternatives, they must be aware that they will still have to train and recruit new teachers—and go outside the education degrees as necessary to fill in the gaps—whether they’ll be working in brand new center-right private schools, or we just take back what is ours.

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.

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