Parents should get a $3,000 education voucher if schools stay closed this fall

By LIV FINNE  | 
Jul 23, 2020
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Education officials in many local districts announced this week that they will not open schools this fall. Superintendents in Seattle, Kent, Renton, Bellevue, Northshore and Lake Washington say they have shut down in-person instruction for the foreseeable future.  Officials gave no date as to when they may re-open the schools.

Naturally many parents are upset with the ongoing school lock-down. Families pay hefty taxes to support the schools, yet the schools are not delivering the education these taxes support. In 2019-20, total funding for Washington’s schools was $17 billion, or $15,800 on average per student.  

Districts officials seem to have decided to put the education of thousands of children on hold until there is a COVID vaccine, which is months or years away.  In the meantime, students will not be getting the math, science and reading instruction from their teachers in person. Experts in child development say denying children social interaction with friends, peers and caring adults hurts their mental health, and personal and emotional development. Many teenagers feel isolated, depressed and anxious. Even adults feel stressed when isolated for long periods, but at least most grown-ups have the emotional resources and attitude to deal with it.  Not so children and young people.  They need their friends, social contacts and their classes to grow and thrive.  

These decisions also affect families who rely on the schools so they can earn a living. Working families, low-income families and single mothers are the hardest hit by school lock-downs. Students already underserved by the public schools are falling even further behind, widening the gap between whites and students of color. All families want to keep their children on track in learning, but school officials have decided not to do their part.

Schools are closed but families must still pay full taxes.  Many families want their money back.

A partial solution is to provide parents an education voucher of $3,000 per student, so families can hire tutors, buy technology, curriculum or pay private school tuition.

The public schools are saving billions of dollars in services they will not be providing students this fall. For example, Seattle, the wealthiest district in the state, has a budget of $19,740 per student. The district’s bloated bureaucracy spends hundreds of millions of dollars. Freeing up some of this spending would easily provide $3,000 vouchers to parents.

Besides, only three years ago, in 2017-18, Seattle Public Schools had a budget of $15,250 per student. Returning to the level of spending in 2017-18 would provide parents $3,000 per student, and then some, while still providing payroll for public employees who are not working.   

The paramount constitutional duty of the state of Washington is to “make ample provision for the education of each child residing within its borders.” A $3,000 voucher per student would help fulfill that duty, would provide a partial refund of education taxes, and would be one element of Washington state’s “ample provision.”