Matt Welch is an editor at large at Reason, the libertarian magazine of “free minds and free markets.” He served as Reason‘s editor in chief from 2008-2016. He is co-author, along with Nick Gillespie, of the 2011 book The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America, which Tyler Cowen called “the up-to-date statement of libertarianism.” Welch also wrote the 2007 book McCain: The Myth of a Maverick.
Reason has been a Western Publications Association magazine of the year finalist every year under Welch’s leadership, winning five first-place Maggie awards, as well as another 18 first-place notices from the Greater Los Angeles Press Club. Welch himself has won eight first-place L.A. Press Club awards over the years, for work on subjects ranging from Jackie Robinson to Cuba to the “banal authoritarianism” of Thomas L. Friedman and David Brooks. From December 2013 to January 2015 he was co-host of the nightly Fox Business Network program The Independents.
Before assuming editorship of Reason in 2008, Welch worked as an assistant editorial pages editor for the Los Angeles Times, media columnist for Reason, California correspondent for The National Post, political columnist for WorkingForChange.com, and regular contributor to the Online Journalism Review. Before 1998, he lived for eight years in Central Europe, where he co-founded the region’s first post-communist English-language newspaper, Prognosis, worked as UPI’s Slovakia correspondent, and managed the Budapest Business Journal.
Welch’s work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN.com, ESPN.com, The Hardball Times, The Columbia Journalism Review, Salon.com, Commentary, LA Weekly, Orange County Register, and scores of other publications. He is a frequent guest on MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business Network, CNN, public radio, and AM radio stations from coast to coast.
Welch lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and two daughters.
The American taxpayer has long accepted that education is a public good – something worthy of funding with the common purse. Until recently, a majority of Americans, including parents, have also believed that public schools are a generally the right vehicle for that funding. However, opinion has changed rapidly, and the response by school administrators to COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of that change. A new survey finds that more than 80% of parents believe that taxpayer funds should follow students to whatever schools they attend, rather than defaulting to the defective public school system.
Even more tellingly, Matt Welch reports that "Families are Fleeing Government Run Schools" – voting with their kids' feet, as it were, against the sudden and unpredictable closures and suspensions of in-person learning. Welch, an editor at large at Reason Magazine, has been reporting on the shift taking place among the population – with an increasing number of both upper and lower-class progressives suddenly embracing school choice when the dysfunction of government-run schools became too glaring to ignore. He joins me LIVE this Sunday to explain why parents are taking their kids out of public schools, and where they are all going.
Have the teachers' unions overplayed their hand in demanding indefinite virtual learning and protections for their members at the expense of learning outcomes for children? Find out, this Sunday (8-9 am PACIFIC) on the show of idea.
Links & Summary
Families Are Fleeing Government-Run Schools
Public schools This fall may be the biggest moment of truth for public education since the 1970s. After seeing enrollment in government-run K-12 schools decline by 3 percentin COVID-marred 2020-21 (including 13 percent for kindergarten and pre-K), all while homeschooling tripled, the $122 billion question facing this new school year is whether that defection is an aberration or inflection point.
Matt's article focuses on NYC schools.
Why are people fleeing?
Unpredictable schedules – about-faces by the administration.
New York City, despite being mistakenly held up by Democrats and teachers unions as a model for school reopening, rattled parents' nerves all 2020–21 with repeated school-year delays, capricious shutdowns, hybrid scheduling, and hair-trigger building closures. Meanwhile, private schools, and public schools as close by as Long Island, remained open all year, without ever becoming "superspreaders."
This is a version of Robert Higgs's "regime uncertainty" – where changes in regulations (rather than the regulations themselves) are the biggest hindrance to entrepreneurs, since it prevents them from planning ahead.
Schools with fewer pupils get less funding from the state.
Because school funding is pegged to enrollment, that means four teachers had to be reassigned within the Department of Education (DOE), while four others found new jobs. (As per usual in personnel proceedings involving a strong public sector union, it's the longest-tenured teachers who get to stay, and the freshest blood shown the door.)
Meanwhile, New York charter schools, which were about as physically shuttered as their government-run counterparts last year, are increasing their popularity in part because parents of lesser means disproportionately prefer having a remote-learning option.
COVID Insanity is another reason – masks, testing, and closures when one pupil gets an infection.
Unvaccinated kids (which is all of them in elementary schools) will be subject to semiregular testing—10 percent of the unvaxxed population every other week. If there is a positive case in a classroom, all the other unvaccinated kids have to quarantine for at least seven days. So what might that look like in practice?
Most of the school will have to be isolated at times.
As the check-clearing deadline for private school approached, the calculation went mostly like this: Do we actually trust the New York system to devise rules that will keep classrooms reliably open? The answer, even in those pre–delta variant days, was hell no. Yesterday's protocols confirmed that suspicion.
Unions have overstepped – their decline is imminent.
With the prospect of a third school year disrupted or rendered unreliable due to Covid, I’m a lot less confident about this take than I was sixteen months ago. Mounting evidence suggests that parents are becoming more likely not just to say they support school choice, but to actively choose an alternative to their local public school—at least the school their kids attended when the pandemic hit.
Kindergarten enrollment has fallen by more than 50 percent. “School sources said some families have abandoned the city outright while others are opting for local parochial or private schools with consistent full-time schooling,” the Post reported.
Even liberals are becoming disillusioned:
Of particular note is the unaccountable behavior of the teachers unions, most notably the American Federation of Teachers, whose President Randi Weingarten has been on a public relations suicide mission for months, brazenly insisting she has been working to reopen schools, despite lobbying the CDC to manipulate school reopening guidance. She seems blithely unaware that parents’ patience is not inexhaustible, and bizarrely determined to alienate her members’ most stalwart supporters: parents like those in Park Slope who pride themselves on being good progressives and public school parents.
Charter-Hating Democrats Now Relying on Charter Schools To Service Families Reluctant To Go Back Into School Buildings
Public schools On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of states like New Jersey in announcing that public schools beginning in fall 2021 will no longer offer remote learning, and that teachers will no longer be granted COVID-19 medical waivers.
"As white parents increasingly insist on in-person school, leading them to enroll in private options or move to the suburbs, at the same time that many parents of color are reluctant to send their children back in person, it's exacerbating the inequities that already plague urban public school systems," wrote Lauren Camera for U.S. News & World Report this month, in a piece with the unsubtle headline "Angry White Parents vs. the Public School System."
Minority parents are also now craving school choice.
Democrats have prevented charter schools from giving them an alternative:
New York City parents who want their kids to learn remotely this fall now have three lanes: homeschooling, private instruction, or charter schools. But that latter option has been deliberately limited by teachers unions and their Democratic allies, who have successfully enforced a charter cap at the state level despite parents being overwhelmingly in favor of lifting it.
Public Schools Still Can't Figure Out How To Reopen
Coronavirus The masks are off, the planes are full, the deaths are way down, and the thriving is high, yet millions of parents still don't know whether their children's schools will be reliably open this fall.
The barriers for public schools to reopening include ridiculous distancing requirements that prevent all students from returning, to quarantining policies that force thousands of students home when one student tests positive.
Park Slope school has lost a third of its students since pandemic, principal says
A top Park Slope elementary school has lost a third of its enrollment since the start of the pandemic, an administrator told stunned parents last week. Mass departures at PS 118 Maurice Sendak on 8th Street, which boasts high performance records, have hobbled funding and forced staff cuts, principal Elizabeth Garraway wrote in the sobering email sent Friday.
Formerly coveted public school sees steep drop off in enrollment.
Flight from NYC's regular public schools makes charters the best hope to save public education
Fresh data show that half NYC school districts lost at least 10% enrollment these past five years, even as charter-school enrollment is up. Families are clearly voting with their feet - as far as state law, which badly restricts charters' growth, will allow.
The boom in public charter schools:
[C]harter-school enrollment is up 31 percent, from 105,065 in 2017 to 138,648 last year.... For the last school year alone, public charter schools saw enrollment boom by nearly 10,000 even as DOE enrollment fell 4 percent — roughly 43,000 kids.
Kindergartners Abandoning Public School in Fall 2021, Too
Public schools (Ekaterina Yakunina/Westend61 GmbH/Newscom) "We're proud to show the nation what is possible in terms of safely educating our one million students," New York City Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter tweeted Wednesday after meeting with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Porter may need to refresh her math.
Private and Catholic schools are not gaining many of the pupils lost by public schools. Instead it's ad hoc groups and homeschooling:
About the only unambiguous growth categories in the entire field of minor education are learning "pods" (ad hoc groups of parents pooling their efforts either full or part time, to fill in the gaps left by school closures), and homeschooling. That latter category is absolutely exploding—up from 3.3 percent before the pandemic, to 5.4 percent in the spring of 2020, to 11.1 percent last fall, according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey, which takes care to distinguish between genuine D.I.Y. education and remote-learning hell. ... If such deliberation continues to produce measurable exit from government-run institutions, the basic structure of American education will change in profound ways.
The number of homeschooled kids in America has doubled during the pandemic
The number of U.S. kids who are homeschooled has nearly doubled during the pandemic. Why it matters: Some parents have lost faith in traditional schools, others fear exposing their kids to the coronavirus - and the broad exodus could further weaken America's struggling public education system.
Erica Pandey, August 31, 2021
How school reopening decisions influenced enrollment drop | Stanford News
Public schools nationwide saw a major drop in student enrollment during the pandemic last year, with many families switching to private schools where classes were still held in person, taking up homeschooling or - especially those with kindergartners - just skipping a formal school year entirely.
Virtual learning schools saw much larger declines - especially in rural areas - than those that returned to in-person.
Opinion | The School Kids Are Not Alright
One of the most distressing aspects of the Covid pandemic has been seeing governors and state education officials abdicate responsibility for managing the worst disruption of public schooling in modern history and leaving the heavy lifting to the localities.
Resultant learning setbacks from remote learning.
Failed leadership is to blame. NYT also blames leaders who have not promoted vaccination, however, to make it safer for everyone to go back to school. This prompts the question of how effective those measures would have to be for progressive areas to keep schools open.
Children’s advocates at the United Nations got it right last month when they admonished governments around the globe for reacting to the pandemic by ending in-person schooling for long periods instead of using mitigation strategies to contain infection.
Rich schools were more likely to stay open.
Many students who didn't enroll in school didn't show up anywhere else.
Coronavirus cases lead to missed school days for 6,500 LAUSD students during first week
Coronavirus cases resulted in 6,500 students missing one or more days during the first week of school in the Los Angeles Unified School District as officials responded to early results from the largest school-based coronavirus testing effort in the nation.
Kids are missing many more days in school.
Videos & Podcasts
After Enrollment Declines, Schools Need Kids Back to Avoid Budget Cuts | WSJ
After public school enrollment declined across the country last year, school districts like the one in Lansing, Michigan, are under pressure to get students ...
- Students, Not Systems, with Corey DeAngelis, Nov. 11, 2019
- Lisa Snell on School Choice Experiments, March 19, 2017
- Jason Bedrick on Overregulating School Choice, April 17, 2016
- Robert Pondiscio on California’s Common Core Test Results October 25, 2015
- Jeff Reed on Breaking the Government’s Monopoly on Education May 4, 2015
- Back to School: A History Lesson from the 1918 Pandemic with Ron Jones, August 14, 2020