This op-ed originally appeared in the Deseret News.
Public schools have always been and will always be an ideological battleground.
The latest battle is over what books should be in school libraries. But these battles have been ongoing since the birth of public schools.
In the late 1800s, it was the debate over what type of Christianity should be allowed: Catholicism or Protestantism. The 1900s were filled with debates over separation of church and state. The Supreme Court ruled in cases on evolution, prayer in school, reading of the Bible, and segregation laws.
Since the pandemic, parent groups have focused on masks in schools, critical race theory, and social emotional learning.
These battles raise important issues and strong emotions. However, each battle requires parents, teachers, and administrators to put some of their limited time and energy into something other than teaching children.
So, what can Utah do?
Legislators can give parents a choice in where, when, and how their children are educated.
Arizona just passed a law making every school-aged child eligible for an education spending account (ESA). ESAs empower parents, regardless of income level, to direct how their child is educated. Unlike a voucher that can only be spent on tuition at certain schools, an ESA allows families the flexibility to select from a variety of education resources that match their child’s needs. Parents can mix and match curricula and tutors, experts and experiences, to create a unique education as unique as the student.
I don’t know what the next ideological battle will be, but I do know there will be one so long as children with diverse needs, backgrounds, and values are forced into the same educational mold.
Public education needs a pressure relief valve. That valve is education choice programs.