While far-right agitators are focused on banning books and using schools to inflame culture wars, pragmatic policymakers from the NewDEAL network and the NewDEAL Forum’s Education Policy Group are focused on pragmatic solutions that improve the education system for all students.
Over the past few years, some states have taken advantage of parents’ support for having choices of where to send their kids to steer taxpayer funds to subsidize private school tuition.
However, recent polling shows that the majority of the public supports school choice that prioritizes public schools, including both traditional schools and public charter schools.
In August 2023, NewDEAL released a guide to help Democrats navigate the issue of school choice, based on input from both elected officials and experts from Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). The guide has three key recommendations for Democratic lawmakers:
- School choice is here to stay. Democrats need to lean into it. Parents want the option of sending their child to traditional public schools, magnet schools, and charter schools, supporting a type of school choice that is free and open to every child, as opposed to private voucher programs that favor children who are already attending private schools that are unaccountable to taxpayers. Embracing public school choice can help Democrats rebuild trust with parents and communities, and remind voters why the party has led on education issues for decades.
- Form coalitions with parties that aren’t always aligned. Policymakers should seek to find common cause and build new coalitions. For example, Georgia Democrats worked with rural Republican lawmakers to vote down a GOP-led voucher system that would siphon funds from public schools which serve as community hubs in their communities.
- Highlight the inequities of voucher systems. As school choice programs remain popular among the families of historically disenfranchised students, Democrats need to underscore how Republican models of choice don’t work to their benefit.
NewDEAL CEO Debbie Cox Bultan and NewDEAL Forum Education Policy Group Co-Chair Georgia Senator Elana Parent published an op-ed in The74 highlighting lessons learned from this discussion about school choice and calling for Democratic leaders to engage in the debate.
The transition to students attending school via Zoom during the height of the COVID pandemic highlighted and further exacerbated issues of digital inequity among students and schools. While the worst of the pandemic is behind us, state and local leaders continue to look for ways to close the digital divide.
To address this issue, the NewDEAL Forum’s Education Task Force released a report highlighting best practices and examples for policymakers to address the digital gap. Based on input from elected officials as well as experts from All4Ed, the report contains the key recommendations around:
- Technical Assistance: Focus on more than ensuring access to broadband connections and devices. Empower students and families with technical assistance.
- Reliable Funding: Ensure reliable and sustainable funding with a plan to adapt as technology continues to advance and change.
- Additive Policy Achievements: Embrace incremental progress to achieve steady momentum towards larger policy goals. By prioritizing smaller, achievable policies, Leaders build a track record of success, laying a foundation for lasting systemic change.
- Evaluation: Meet with stakeholders (including parents and guardians) to evaluate how programs are being implemented on the ground, and be prepared to revisit policies to refine and amend them.
In addition, the report highlights the work of Tennessee state Senator Raumesh Akbari’s bipartisan efforts to ensure adequate funding for both rural and urban schools, as well as funding for computer science programs. And it shares Washington State Senator Mark Liias’ success in collaborating with educators to develop programs that will equip students with digital navigation skills.
Radical efforts to ban books may grab headlines, but these two documents show that pragmatic state and local officials continue to be committed to bringing about student-focused-solutions to improving education systems.