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Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.
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By Robert Holland

Just before May Day, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and state schools chief Molly Spearman had some consoling words for working parents who would soon need to deal with the effects of thousands of South Carolina teachers deserting their classrooms on May 1 in the pursuit of more cash provided by taxpayers. But McMaster and Spearman only deserve half a hooray.

It is about time someone in authority spoke up for parents and children who are the victim of teachers showcasing their demands by shirking their duties. However, actions would speak louder than words. Actions to penalize immoral—and potentially illegal—job actions in public schooling have been few and far between.

Not only do the teacher sickouts, walkouts, strikes, and mass takings of “personal days” inflict burdens on families, they also result in disruptions in the continuity of instruction, which cause many students to lose focus and fall behind.

Teacher walkouts can easily create a temporary family crisis, as parents scramble to secure a safe place for their children to go to during school hours. Ultimately, many parents can’t take time off from work, forcing them to pay for babysitters—if they can find them.

Do parents have to suck it up and take these hits to their children’s well-being? No, they don’t. For example, they could contact local homeschooling organizations and seek advice for going that route, as growing numbers of families have done in recent years, for a variety of reasons. But their options would be greater than that if their elected representatives would show the backbone to take up their cause.

A major help for families would be state policymakers’ adoption of strike vouchers for immediate relief, coupled with help from Student Opportunity Scholarship (SOS) accounts in the event of lingering strike-aggravated problems. (For details on how this might work, see this Policy Brief published by The Heartland Institute.)

Under the strike vouchers program, parents facing teacher strikes could send their child to any private, parochial, or charter school willing to enroll additional students. Participating schools would receive a voucher redeemable for $50 per day per each strike-displaced student. Given the possible need for additional safe havens, such organizations as YMCAs, libraries, or Boys and Girls Clubs also could take in voucher kids.

In the event of a prolonged strike, the relief plan would allow parents to shift from temporary vouchers to the SOS scholarships, which could operate through a mechanism similar to the education savings accounts now on the books in several states. On the 10th day of a strike, parents could begin converting their temporary aid to scholarships, permanently enrolling their children in independent schools.

When school systems have set aside makeup pay for striking teachers, the parent relief plan could stipulate that any such compensation be reduced by the amount necessary to fund strike vouchers. This would help spare taxpayers extra expenses while creating an incentive to avoid strikes, or at least reduce their duration. It is unconscionable that during West Virginia’s prolonged strike last year, 55 school superintendents not only closed their schools but counted strike days as snow days so striking teachers would collect their pay.

With regard to West Virginia, the leftist publication Jacobin touts behind-the-scene work of a “militant minority”—educator members of the Democratic Socialists of America—in organizing teacher walkouts. Given the socialist roots of May Day activism, it figures that they are celebrating new triumphs now.

Emboldened by their job actions inducing statehouse commitments to raise pay across the board (minus any performance factor), some teacher-activists have taken to abandoning their students in bids to stifle reforms such as state-funded savings accounts enabling parents to exercise wide-ranging choice among education providers.

It seems as though parents have been taken captive and stripped of their fundamental freedom. They supply the children to the government schools and send tax revenue to pay teachers, yet they are not allowed to decide which school their child attends. That sounds like the kind of fairness common in socialist regimes.

The time has come for parents to strike back at self-serving teachers unions. Supporting strike vouchers would be a great way to open a new front in the battle for education choice.

Robert Holland ([email protected]) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.