The scandal of Virginia schools deliberately withholding merit awards from their own high-achieving students has public officials and parents in an uproar, and rightly so. Students were unfairly denied recognition and benefits from the National Merit Scholarship program that they had earned so school administrators could pat themselves on the back for creating an “equitable” environment.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares has launched an investigation, and Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) even suggested the schools could be guilty of a “human rights violation.” Accountability will be welcome.
But there is a better solution to this problem, and that is school choice.
This week is National School Choice Week, and the Virginia education system’s failures are a perfect example of why education freedom is so important. Students should not be trapped in a system that deprecates their achievements and is more interested in egalitarian poses than in success. No one benefits from an environment in which excellence is meaningless, least of all low-achieving students who will never be challenged or encouraged to reach higher.
Such schools are failing their students by prioritizing ideology over education. They do not deserve the steady flow of taxpayer dollars allotted to them. Indeed, they deserve to have the cash flow stanched. Families should not be forced to keep funding a system that betrays their children and its purpose. Virginia’s families, and all others across the country, need choice — the ability to take taxpayer funding away from the public education system and spend it instead on an education that meets their children’s needs.
Several states have in the past year passed laws giving families this freedom. Arizona, West Virginia, and Iowa, for example, have implemented various school choice programs, from education savings accounts to subsidized state scholarships. The result is that every student, regardless of race, background, or income, now has the same opportunity as everyone else to find a school in which they can thrive. This opportunity, which for too long was available only to the wealthy, can and should be for everybody.
Competition is the great equalizer, and that is what school choice is. Leftist bureaucrats and education “experts,” such as those in Fairfax County, might think they’re providing students with a level playing field by withholding merit awards and forcing everyone to arrive at the same outcomes. But what they’re really doing is consigning their students to mediocrity or worse.
School choice is an open door for every family that chooses to take advantage of it. No wonder the education establishment is so terrified of it — bad teachers and bad schools will find that they are no longer paid for indoctrination and failure.
This year, more states should follow the examples set by Arizona, West Virginia, and Iowa and make school choice a legislative priority. Choice not only guarantees every family equal opportunity, but it also gives the public the power to hold school systems accountable when they start serving their own ideological interests at the expense of the students. It is a vehicle for equality and high quality and an obvious answer to the public education system’s continued failures.