How Teachers Unions Enraged Parents and Awakened a ‘Sleeping Giant,’ Sparking a ‘School Choice Wave’

‘Parents have basically become a new political juggernaut,’ a leading school choice advocate, Corey DeAngelis, tells the Sun ahead of his new book’s release this week.

Corey DeAngelis
The author of 'The Parent Revolution,' Corey DeAngelis. Corey DeAngelis

When one of America’s leading school choice advocates, Corey DeAngelis, sat down to write his new book, he knew exactly who to dedicate it to. 

“Randi Weingarten and the teachers unions have inadvertently done more to advance the concept of school choice and homeschooling than anyone could have ever imagined,” he tells The New York Sun ahead of his May 14 release of “The Parent Revolution.”

During the pandemic, it was Ms. Weingarten’s union, the American Federation of Teachers — along with the National Education Association — that led a charge to lobby the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make it harder to reopen schools in-person.

He points to her local affiliates using “fear-mongering” to keep schools closed: the Chicago Teachers Union even deleted a tweet in December 2020 that claimed the push to reopen schools was “rooted in sexism, racism and misogyny” and one of its board members was caught on a Puerto Rican vacation while lobbying against reopening schools and going back to work in-person. 

Mr. DeAngelis’ book opens with a dedication and thank you to Ms. Weingarten and the unions for “overplaying” their hands. 

“They showed their true colors, and at the end of all this they awakened a sleeping giant, which happens to be parents who want more of a say in their kids’ education,” Mr. DeAngelis says. 

It was during Covid that the parent movement began bubbling up and sparked into what he tracks as a full-blown revolution that is the basis of his new book.

As families got a firsthand look into the classroom, they witnessed radical gender ideology and critical race theory teachings intertwined with regular school curricula. That led to 2021, “the year of school choice,” followed a “school choice wave” that swept midterm elections in 2022, despite the much-anticipated “red wave” never materializing.

The following year was the “year of universal school choice” as eight states “went all in” for school choice — and momentum isn’t showing any signs of slowing down in 2024. 

“The real kicker where it backfired for the teachers unions was when they fought to keep the schools closed, which allowed parents to see through remote learning — which we really should have just called remotely learning because not a lot of learning was going on,” he says. 

Parents have “woken up, and they’re never going back to sleep,” Mr. DeAngelis contends. “The parents have basically become a new political juggernaut that politicians have to listen to, as opposed to ignoring as they have. For far too long in K-12 education, the only special interests represented the employees in the system — the adults — but now the kids have a union of their own, and they’re called parents.”

School choice is rapidly becoming a “political winner,” and while much of the movement has unfolded in red states, he says, the movement has reached the point in some states where “Democrats are even defecting on the issue.” 

What is important in the education movement is not by electing the “right people” but rather “to make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing,” he says, in a nod to Milton Friedman. In Louisiana this year, 20 percent of Democrats voted for universal school choice legislation, and in Nebraska, a Democrat sided with Republicans to get the needed votes for a school choice program. 

Despite those wins for the movement at large, there are still millions of families whose children are restricted to schools in or near the zip code they live in. 

One option to extend private school choice to deep-blue states is with the Educational Choice for Children Act currently in Congress. “If we could get a Republican president in office, if Trump wins, that would have a much stronger shot of making it across the finish line,” Mr. DeAngelis says. 

On the ground, parents can attend school board meetings and demand change at a local level. 

“We saw how well that worked out, where families are still getting their mics cut off for reading content that they don’t want in the public school libraries,” he says. An in “extremely egregious case” during the pandemic, the Biden administration implied that parents protesting critical race theory and gender ideology in the classroom should be investigated for “domestic terrorism,” even creating a threat tag for such parents. 

“That seemed to be an attempt to bully and silence parents into submission,” he says. “Thankfully, it had the opposite of its intended effect. It only emboldened families to push back even harder and to fight for the right to educate their children as they see fit.” 

A general theme of his book is “exposing hypocrites,” as he puts it, who rally against school choice yet send their own children to private schools. And he says he hopes his readers will come away with two takeaways to ensure that the “parent revolution” stays strong.

For starters, “school choice is the best solution to the one-size-fits-all monopoly that is the government-run school system.” Banning divisive concepts such as critical race theory from schools is a positive step, but undercover videos have already exposed some teachers teaching it anyway, he says. 

“Top-down reforms, although they can be helpful, can turn into a never ending game of whac-a-mole,” he says, as parents try to monitor a “one-size-fits-all” school system. “The strongest form of accountability is bottom-up accountability where families can vote with their feet to the providers that best meet their needs and align with their values.” 

And ultimately, parents have the power to overcome special interest groups that have had “outsized influence over politicians” for decades. “When parents band together,” he says, “they can become a political force to be reckoned with.”

The New York Sun

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