Legislatures across the country have been discussing education reform for many years, specifically educational choice options. This year Georgia joined the conversation considering education savings accounts. Much of the dialogue is student centered – as it should be. However, there is one audience that is not often mentioned, but stands to gain a great deal from more school choice options in the state, and that is teachers.
As education options increase across the state, so do employment options for teachers. Public schools, private schools, charter schools, online schools and many more options exist, allowing teachers to thrive and use their creativity and passion for teaching in just the right environment. This is highly beneficial for students as well!
Public school teachers often spend more time on administrative tasks, than actually teaching in the classroom. A study by Alliance for Excellent Education found that approximately “half a million teachers either move or leave the profession each year.”
Florida is leading the nation in options for school choice, allowing teachers to use choice programs to open their own schools. Teacher run schools not only allow for an education model that tailors the curriculum to the students’ needs, but also allows teachers to maximize their expertise.
With a robust choice menu in Georgia, teachers would have more options than ever before to seek employment. Flexible work-from-home positions for online academies and higher teacher pay, are just two benefits of more choice programs. Choice also creates competition of free-market values among the profession so exceptional teachers will rise to the top and be rewarded.
Like many observers, I was surprised and appalled by the events in Chicago a week ago, when Donald Trump’s campaign cancelled a rally in the face of concerted, well-organized protests both inside and outside the venue. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. It was a college campus, after all, and our students have become all too proficient and shutting down and shouting down speakers they don’t like. Donald Trump just received the same treatment campus social justice warriors have been meting out to a long and distinguished list of speakers. There’s nothing special about Trump in this regard.
But this isn’t another essay about the intolerance of campus activists or about the violence associated with Trump rallies, or even about the perfect storm that can be created when those two forces collide.
It’s about the First Amendment, which Trump invoked in responding on Twitter (apparently his favorite medium) to the events at and around the cancelled rally. Here’s his tweet: “The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!”
Some observers have been quick to point out that the First Amendment only protects speech against (some) government restrictions, not against private individuals or groups that interfere with your ability to speak your piece. Stated another way, neither side in a cacophonous shouting match is depriving the other of any First Amendment right, however both might in certain circumstances have a claim against government agents who sought to silence them.
So Donald Trump was speaking loosely on Twitter, which is par for the course, both for him and for his chosen medium of expression. But he actually was onto something that lawyers or pedants like me who sometimes try to sound lawyerly in front of a classroom all too frequently forget: a bill of rights, of which ours is an outstanding example, isn’t only the basis of an actionable legal claim. It is also meant to teach us which of rights are most important, which we should be most jealous of, and which we should respect in our daily lives as neighbors and citizens. In other words, a bill of rights can teach us what to cherish, both for ourselves and for others.
Let me explain by recurring to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. In the first chapter, Mill writes of a number of developments in “the struggle between Liberty and Authority,” the first of which was “obtaining a recognition of certain immunities, called political liberties or rights, which it was to be regarded as a breach of duty in the ruler to infringe.” Such a bill of rights—think of the Magna Carta as a prime example—historically preceded other measures to protect individual liberty, like institutional checks and balances and representative government. Indeed, even at the time of the American Founding there was no necessary connection between arguments insisting on the necessity of a Bill of Rights for the new constitution and those suggesting the advisability or necessity of judicial review. The former wasn’t thought necessarily to imply the latter as the principal vehicle of enforcement.
So what was, then, a Bill of Rights? It was an attempt to list the rights that the people regarded as most important to protect, by one means or another, from government encroachment. It was certainly addressed to those who exercised political power, warning them that such encroachments would evoke a response. But it was also addressed to the people, reminding them of the rights they should cherish and defend, so that any government attempt on them would indeed evoke an appropriately vigorous response. We’re not just supposed to wait for someone else to protect our rights, but, knowing what they are, we’re supposed to take it upon ourselves jealously and zealously to guard them.
The almost inevitable consequence of this jealous and zealous defense of rights is that it might be invoked in “technically” inappropriate contexts, against other citizens rather than against government. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it prompts, not litigation (all too often Trump’s first recourse), but a little self-reflection. Perhaps we can remind ourselves, or perhaps we can be reminded, that the rights we cherish for ourselves we ought properly to cherish for everyone. When I claim freedom of speech for myself, I should remember that my freedom is not mine alone, but everyone’s. As I demand that my rights be respected (in the first instance by government, but ultimately by everyone), so I should respect the rights of others.
One possible result of loose rights talk, corrected not by lawyers, but by (say) political theorists or historians, is an appreciation of the roles that mutual respect and civility play in facilitating the speech that makes self-government possible. Here both Donald Trump and his detractors have a thing or two to learn. For Trump, while it’s entirely appropriate to be indignant when someone interrupts you, it’s altogether inappropriate to threaten or encourage a violent response. (In fact, if you want to get technical or legalistic here, the kind of speech in which Trump engages in response to hecklers approaches incitement to violence, which is potentially actionable and is not protected by the First Amendment.) For the protesters and hecklers, a decent respect for one’s fellow citizen requires that you let the man speak. If you disagree with him, find your own forum, don’t try to hijack his.
Courts in any event should be our last resort, especially if we cherish our rights and demand that others respect them. Above all, we should make ourselves worthy of respect, or, if you will respectable. That ought to be the first lesson of all our rights talk: with rights come responsibilities.
Last week, the Virginia senate passed what could become the nation’s sixth education savings account law, pending a governor’s signature. HB 389 would allow children with special needs to apply for an account. With an account, Virginia would deposit a portion of a child’s funds from the state formula in a private bank account that parents would use to buy educational products and services for their children.
Virginia’s proposal is similar to laws enacted in Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Education savings accounts in these states allow families to use a child’s account to customize a child’s learning experience with online classes, private school tuition, curricular materials like textbooks, and, critically for children with special needs, educational therapy like speech and occupational therapy.
In Virginia, 13 percent of students—some 161,000 children—have special needs and could use an account to find educational services to help them succeed. As this blog has explained previously, Arizona families are hiring individual tutors to help children with autism, students who were struggling to learn basic skills prior to using an account. Others are combining public school extracurricular activities with home-based instruction, which gives children the chance to interact with their peers and learn in a setting that meets their needs. Such opportunities give hope to children and their parents.
Education savings accounts also provide lawmakers with a solution for large, statewide policy issues looming on the horizon.
Research from Matthew Ladner, Ph.D. at the Foundation for Excellence in Education finds that Virginia and Georgia have something in common: High age-dependency ratios. For Virginia, their score of +19 means the state has a “high percentage of people out of the workforce and a relatively small percentage of people trying to cover the costs of their education, retirement, and health care.”
The U.S. Census projects that Virginia’s public school enrollment will increase by 300,000 students over the next 15 years while the population of adults over 65 will almost double. The expansion in these two sectors will put a strain on taxpayer-funded services in education and health care.
Georgia finds itself in a similar position. Georgia’s +16 score is slightly below the national average of +17, but still points to a future where fewer people are pulling the cart of social programs and increasing numbers are sitting in the cart. The Census estimates Georgia’s student population will increase by a half-million students, while its elderly population will increase by nearly 1 million.
Education savings accounts and other private school choice options like tax credit scholarships (already available in Virginia and Georgia) will help ease the pressure on taxpayers who would be asked to pay for new district school buildings and public school staff. Parental choice in education comes at a significant discount compared to district school services. In Arizona, education savings accounts for children with special needs are worth 90 percent of what is spent on these children in traditional schools while, on average, mainstream students’ accounts amount to 50-60 percent of what taxpayers spend per child in district schools.
Virginia and Georgia badly need solutions like these. Education savings accounts improve the quality of life for participating families and can provide students with choices as the demands for public services increase.
Jonathan Butcher is education director at the Goldwater Institute and senior fellow at the Beacon Center of Tennessee.
The Healthy Families Initiative kicked off earlier this year with the purpose of providing tools to couples and individuals in order to encourage healthy relationships.
Over the past few months, as part of the Healthy Families Initiative, well-known relationship experts trained and certified 19 passionate, community leaders within the Norcross and Peachtree Corners areas in five premium relationship curriculums.
This program is very important to me and my family, because prior to our moving to Georgia 10 years ago, my husband and I would constantly enroll in similar classes and read materials devoted to strengthening our relationship as a married couple, and as parents. We wanted to make sure we equipped ourselves with the tools and resources for a strong marriage and family.
You see, with our move the dynamics of our family changed dramatically. My husband and I had two biological children (ages 8 and 13) and obtained guardianship of two teenage children (ages 13 and 16). As a blended family situated in a new environment, we needed to find support for our new family structure.
I began to research, and I came across Georgia Family Council, today known as Georgia Center for Opportunity. This organization provided healthy relationship skills classes for couples and individuals on marriage and family. With great enthusiasm, my husband and I attended one of their classes, became certified trainers, utilized the information for our family, and were able to facilitate classes in our local community. With the help of these classes, our family is now thriving, and we were able to give back to our community – closing the gap to relationship success for some and breaking unhealthy cycles for others. A win-win for our family and our community.
My husband and I have made it a priority to equip our marriage and family with relationship education resources. We continue to enroll in classes and read materials that strengthen and promote healthy family formation. We have experienced and seen the impact it has on our family and our community.
I encourage you to take this opportunity and make it a “win-win” for you, your family, and your community by reserving your seat in one of the healthy relationship education classes offered through the Healthy Families Initiative.
The classes are free and meals are provided at each class meeting.
Individuals and families have the opportunity to sign up for the following classes:
How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk or Jerkette
Boot Camp for New Dads
Strengthening Families Program (10-14)
For more information on the classes offered visit www.hfigeorgia.org or call us at (877) 814-0535.