Daniel Buck is a private school English teacher in Wisconsin. Like much of the country, his school shut down in-person learning last semester. But this semester, classrooms are full and kids are back to in-person learning, with the administration making the bold decision to reopen.

“My heart breaks for the students that I taught last semester at home, just staring at a computer screen for 8 hours a day,” Buck told Independent Women’s Forum. One of his students, he said, compared online learning to “reading a book with no words.”

With more than six in ten public school students starting the school year on Zoom, Buck couldn’t be more grateful to be back in school.

“We’ve had kids and we’ve had teachers who have caught COVID, but we have been able to track all of those to external exposure,” he said. “And so far, we’ve had no local spread from the school. But more importantly than the lack of spread is the success we’re having in the classroom.”

Studies show a disproportionate number of poor and minority students are falling behind, with researchers warning that the gaps could be even larger than what the numbers now suggest because so many students are absent from testing this year. As unions refused to allow kids back in school, parents with means have shown a dramatic increase in alternative options, such as pandemic pods or private schools. This fall, just five percent of private schools opened virtually.

“Those with means have jumped ship for private schools or pandemic pods to better suit their needs,” said Buck. “But so many parents don’t have that opportunity and this reality is true even after COVID.”

While affluent families are capitalizing on alternative options, disadvantaged families are stuck at home with Zoom. In effect, denying choice has only denied poor children—not the children of families with means—alternative educational options.

Buck said the pandemic has provided a concrete example for why choice is needed. “When you crunch the data, schools have opened or closed not because of the pandemic facts on the ground—the case counts and death counts—but because of union power,” he said. “Where unions are stronger, schools have been more likely to close.”

In order to make school choice a reality for families across all incomes, “States must fund families instead of systems,” he said, “and empower all families—not just the wealthiest—with the leverage they need to ensure that their children get a quality education, even in the midst of a pandemic.”

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