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Can a voucher program solve the education crisis amid coronavirus? | COMMENATRY

Teachers and parents are facing a tough reality. They want students to be back in school, but they know that there is no acceptable road forward in the coming months. If all students go back to school simultaneously amid the coronavirus pandemic, they will have to do so while ignoring all CDC regulations and risking their lives. If schools revert to hybridized learning, or to A/B schedules, a single sick student or teacher can still force entire classes of students into quarantine for weeks.

In the hotter months, schools without air conditioning — like many schools in Baltimore City — will have students with asthma, in hot school buildings, wearing masks, which makes breathing difficult. Students will still cross paths in hallways and while going to the bathroom. Many students will have to ride public transit to get to school, increasing the likelihood of spread in a relatively uncontrolled environment. As the winter months approach — in conjunction with the point in which the vaccine could first appear — the flu will return.

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A coronavirus vaccine won’t provide immediate relief, either: Producing enough to vaccinate 57 million students nationwide will take time and be politically difficult when the priority will to be distribute to senior citizens and essential workers. Many parents will not trust a vaccine, which, though tested in a lab, will not have undergone lengthy testing that would allow the prediction of potential effects in five to 10 years.

Furthermore, some teachers and parents like virtual learning: It cuts down on behavior problems, allows teachers to schedule more one-on-one time with students and limits the amount of time spent transitioning from class and cleaning the class and wasting other bits of time.

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Despite the boons of online learning and the drawbacks of returning to brick-and-mortar classrooms, politicians and lawmakers still want to enforce an early return. Why? Because public school is in many ways a babysitting scheme.

President Donald Trump and U.S Education Secretary Betsy Devos are demanding that students go back to school despite infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci’s statement that reopening is moving too quickly in some states. Who’s right? It doesn’t really matter. When it comes down to it, it seems obviously wrong to me that we would continue to trust the federal government to make these decisions.

These are the people who take our money and then don’t hold some teachers accountable; they force schools to spend weeks or months preparing for and taking standardized tests and enact laws that cannot produce high scores, and then decide to make sensitive decisions about whether or not to send a child back to school amid a pandemic — without the consent of the parent. Are we going to let them keep doing this or take this opportunity to take the power out of their hands?

It is time to take decisions about children’s lives out of the hands of politicians and give it to back to parents. How? Allow educators to open or reform their schools and then let parents choose which schools to send their children to. There can be online only, brick and mortar only and hybridized, and then there can be home schooling collectives, which have more fluid structures. How can this be done? Vouchers.

It is time for the government to stop allocating the money and, instead, give parents a check for every child the parents have in public education, and then let the parents spend that check on public, charter, private or home schooling.

There are legitimate questions to raise about a voucher program. Would it produce students with lower standardized test scores? How do you hold the educators accountable? How could we ensure parents who accepted the voucher would do their best to educate their children? These questions deserve legitimate exploration and answers. But one thing is immediately clear: It is time to reconsider who has the power to control what happens with the children of this nation.

Gabriel McKinney (gbmckinney@bcps.k12.md.us) is an English teacher at The Empowerment Academy in Southwest Baltimore.

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