School Choice Is an Issue of Discipleship
It’s National School Choice Week, but serious work on school choice has been happening for a while now. Two years ago, West Virginia passed a school choice bill that was, at that point, the broadest in the nation. Then last year, Arizona passed a school choice bill that was even broader, allowing each parent to decide where money allocated for their child’s education should go. That money can even be used to pay for tuition at the school their church operates.
On Tuesday, Iowa passed a universal school choice bill of their own that applies to every student in the state. Meanwhile, Texas, Florida, Utah, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska are considering universal school choice legislation as well.
It’s not that school choice is a brand new idea. Indeed, school choice programs of various kinds have existed for decades, but most of them have been limited in scope and contained eligibility requirements that made them inaccessible for most students. The bills being debated and passed now will change the landscape of education permanently because they give every student educational choices that, until recently, have only been available to those with means.
Opponents warn that school choice legislation will harm existing public schools when students leave. Of course, this statement is an admission that there are many families that are stuck in schools they’re unhappy with because they have no other options. A school that fails to educate their children adequately should suffer a loss of funding. Bad schools should be forced to improve quickly or close their doors. Children don’t have 10 years to wait around for their schools to get better — by then the damage is already done. Forcing children to remain in failing schools because it would hurt the school if the child left puts the cart before the horse.
The education system should not exist to ensure that schools remain open; the education system should exist so that students will learn. Giving students and families the ability to leave schools they’re unhappy with will produce the result we should all want: good schools get funded and bad schools don’t. This is why school choice matters.
But for Christian parents, it’s much more than that. Generations ago, government schools were run by people who generally shared our values. Today this isn’t true. While neutrality never did or can exist, in many cases so-called educators are zealously hostile to the values of the parents who send their children into their classrooms day after day. Between kindergarten and 12th grade, a student will spend 16,000 hours in a classroom. The impact of 16,000 hours in a classroom lead by people who are hostile to Christian values is having the impact we should have expected it to have. As I wrote in a document entitled “Why Every Church Should Start a Christian School”:
The fastest growing religious category in America is the “nones” — those who claim to have no religion at all. Over the last decade, the number of Protestants declined 15% and the number of Catholics declined 12% while the “nones” grew 70% — from 12% of the population to 17% in 2019. That’s an additional 30 million people who now claim no religious faith. Of those, 78% grew up in the church. The church is losing its own kids.
What we have long thought of as an education system is really a discipleship system, and Christians have become comfortable having their children discipled by the wrong people. Parents cannot offset the impact of 16,000 hours by taking your children to church on Sunday and doing family devotionals on Sunday evening.
School choice should matter for Christian parents and the church broadly because it represents an opportunity to reclaim the role as the primary spiritual influence of our children. We can once again be the primary disciples of our children, or we can continue letting drag queens do it. Breaking old habits for the sake of their soul is going to be uncomfortable, but there’s nothing more important.
Joseph Backholm is Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council.