The unveiling of the conservative think tank’s latest project occurs as the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress shows average scores for nine-year-olds plummeting five points in reading and seven points in mathematics. Amid the rapid decline in education outcomes — which immediately follows school lockdowns that disrupted learning in the spring of 2020 — parents are increasingly concerned over the encroachment of radical gender theory and other left-wing ideologies into classrooms.
Beyond performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and access to school choice, Heritage’s “Education Freedom Report Card” considers spending per pupil, teacher-to-non-teacher staff ratios, and unfunded teacher pension liabilities as a proportion of state gross domestic product. The top-ranked state in the group’s inaugural report is Florida.
“The Sunshine State embraces education freedom across the board,” the analysis explained. “Florida does exceptionally well in allowing parents to choose among private, charter, and district schools, is home to a strong ESA program, and ranks third overall for education choice. Florida ranks first among states for academic transparency. Among other protections, state lawmakers set a high standard for academic transparency, and reject critical race theory’s pernicious ideas.”
New Jersey, New York, and Washington, D.C., ranked at the bottom of the list as policymakers neglect to “provide transparency, accountability, and choice to families.” In second place, however, was Arizona, which recently greenlit $6,500 in tuition vouchers per child that parents can apply to private schools, homeschools, or learning pods.
Many parents turned to homeschooling and private schools as their local districts continued with virtual instruction. Homeschooling rates across the country grew from 5.4% to 11% between March 2020 and September 2020 alone, one report from the Census Bureau found last year.
While responding to a question about dismal readings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre provoked criticism by suggesting that Republicans prevented schools from reopening sooner amid the rollback of government lockdowns.
“That was the work of this president. And that was the work of Democrats, in spite of Republicans not voting for the American Rescue Plan,” she explained, referring to $130 billion in funding for schools greenlit by the $1.9 trillion legislation. “Every Republican in Congress voted against that money. That is the reality. We had to do this on our own.”
However, several Democratic lawmakers and politicians — including Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield — had pushed for a delay to normal instruction. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said during a July 2021 interview with MSNBC that increasing vaccination rates was necessary to “keep kids safe” and “keep our members safe” amid attempts “to open up schools.”
More recently, teachers unions have called for more funding as labor shortages impact the education sector. However, a report from the National Center for Education Statistics indicated that the inflation-adjusted yearly expenditure per American pupil rose from $4,060 to $15,424 between 1960 and 2017. Another study from the Department of Education revealed that schools increased the number of non-teaching staff by 702% between 1950 to 2009 despite hiring 252% more teachers over the same period.