January 27, 2023
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We have all lost so much during the pandemic. We were forced to leave work, school and stay away from each other. We have lost memories and time with our families, our friends and other moments in our lives that are so important.

But our children may have lost the most. Schools were closed across the country, at first for just two weeks. This has evolved into distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, as well as much of 2020-2021.

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It is now clear that our children have lost even more than just time spent with their friends or school parties. Their learning and general knowledge has been undermined by school closures and we need to start a frank conversation about the impact of the pandemic response on the social, psychological and academic development of our children; the generation of students is far behind, and this will affect all of us.

However, one thing is clear: the students who were allowed to stay in the classroom or return earlier did much better. Parents who could see to it that their children were in the classroom and not at home at the computer knew that this was the right thing to do. The new test results not only show they were right, but also show how harmful these decisions are to millions of children across the country.

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Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the National Report Card, show a 4.th and 8th students saw the biggest declines in math and reading scores. In Minnesota, the decline has been staggering.

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However, the results of students who were able to attend non-public schools tell a different story. Thanks to their dedication to their students, many of these schools have rolled up their sleeves and found a way to safely stay open, and it’s no surprise that their test averages are much higher than their public school peers. In fact, if Catholic schools were a state, they would rank #1 in the state rankings on the National Report Card. The main factor behind these results: Children go to school. Their needs have been put in the first place where they should be.

We have not even come close to understanding the magnitude and scope of the educational losses that our children have experienced. What we do understand is that parental empowerment is an integral part of the solution.

As we debate how best to help our children improve their math and reading skills, limiting ourselves to “old ideas” will at best revert us back to the old and unacceptable status quo. Simply pouring money into the system will not help when the problem is in the system itself.

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So, not only do we need to make sure the parents are part of the solution, but we also need to empower those parents. Like many other states, we need to use education savings accounts to give parents the financial opportunity to make the education choice that is best for their children.

As the dust settles around the 2022 election and lawmakers prepare for the 2023 legislative session, we must make education reform our top priority. These recent test results should spur us on to a renewed commitment to putting the needs of our children above all else.

All legislators of all political parties must be able to agree that we are faced with a serious situation. Putting more money into a problem won’t solve it; instead, we need to empower parents to decide how to spend that money in a way that works for their family. It’s time to make education savings accounts a reality in Minnesota, so that all parents, of all backgrounds and income levels, can choose schools that provide a bright future for all of our children.

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Interested in learning more about education savings accounts? Go to opportunity for allkids.org.

Rev. Fredrik Hinz is the public policy advocate for the Synod of the Lutheran Church of Missouri. Joshua “JB” Borenstein is the Executive Director of the Torah Academy in St. Louis Park. Both are members of the Opportunity for All Kids (OAK) Council. Their article follows a recent MinnPost Community Voices article that talked about full education funding.

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