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Fight over mask mandates turns Democrats into school choice advocates

For the last several months, the fight over mask mandates in schools has dominated school board meetings across the U.S.

Anti-mask parents have accused board members, teachers, and principals of imposing a dangerous “talisman” upon American students, while pro-mask parents have declared that those who would ban masks just want to see kids (and teachers) get sick and die.

Despite all the division, Americans might have found something on which to unify: school choice.

What’s this now?

Though 69% of U.S. adults support mandatory mask-wearing in schools, according to an August Axios/Ipsos poll, the political breakdown is unsurprisingly polarized: 92% of Democrats support it, while just 44% of Republicans feel the same.

But a new poll from Echelon Insights posted Tuesday by the American Federation for Children showed where the nation’s unity can be found: Both parties want more school choice — especially Democrats — Corey DeAngelis, national director of research at the American Federation for Children, reported in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

The survey asked Americans, “If a family feels their child is unsafe in their public school because the district is not imposing a mask mandate, would you support or oppose providing school vouchers so that their child may attend a private school or homeschool?”

According to the pollsters, 79% of all respondents with an opinion supported allowing families to use their student’s taxpayer-funded education dollars for either a private school or for home-schooling.

And Democrats were even more friendly to the idea than Republicans.

Some 82% of Democrats backed the idea of school choice, while 78% of Republicans said they supported the proposition.

And that’s not the only poll this summer to show a surge in support for educational freedom. RealClear Opinion Research reported a poll in late June showing that school choice support sat at 74% among all Americans — and had jumped 11 percentage points among Democrats during the pandemic, the Journal said. In April 2020, 59% of Democrats backed school choice, but in June 2021, that figure moved up to 70%.

Anything else?

“We’ve all learned a lot over the past 18 months,” DeAngelis wrote. “The battles over school reopenings, masking and curriculum have revealed the main problem with the one-size-fits-all public school system. Many Republicans supported school choice well before 2020. But Democratic voters are now also realizing that uniform school systems won’t always work in their favor.”

More from DeAngelis:

Some policy makers are beginning to figure out that choice is the best solution. In Arizona, a new program allows families access to federal relief funding to pay for private education if their children’s public school mandates masks, suspends in-person instruction, or subjects students to other Covid-19 constraints. The Florida Board of Education recently unanimously approved allowing all families to take their children’s state-funded education dollars to a private school if they disagree with their public school’s masking rules.

Funding students directly and empowering all families–and not forcing one-size-fits-all mandates–is the way forward. Most voters, Democratic and Republican alike, understand that freedom trumps force when it comes to education. Let’s hope more Democratic legislators listen to their constituents and work to end these unnecessary disputes by catering to the needs of families instead of the demands of special interests.

American Federation for Children CEO Tommy Schultz lauded the Echelon survey and urged lawmakers to listen to their constituents.

“While the majority of American voters from all political parties support school choice, these numbers represent a marked increase in support among Democrats,” Schultz said in a statement. “This just affirms that the one-size-fits-all system of education cannot serve the needs and interests of all families. No family should ever feel unsafe sending their children to school, whether due to bullying or health and safety protocols. Elected officials should take note and put children first by empowering families with educational options.”

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