Every day, parents across the country must send their children to public schools because of compulsory education laws — even if being in those schools harm their children physically and educationally. Every pay period, teachers pay their hard-earned dollars into the bank accounts of teachers’ unions — even if they aren’t members. Both are wrong. And perhaps, as the U.S. Supreme Court considers the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, teachers should think about why they should support Parent Power and school choice for families the way they want to have choice for themselves in deciding to support a union.
Parents sometimes forget that sending our children to school isn’t something we can’t choose to do. We already want the best for our children and understand that education is the key to successful lives in adulthood. But we are also forced to send our children to school because of laws requiring compulsory education, or a period of educational attendance required of all students often determined by their age.
In the United States, schooling is compulsory for all children. The age range for which school attendance is required varies from state to state. Some states allow students to leave school between the ages of 14–17 before finishing high school only with parental permission. In some other states, students are required to stay in school until age 18.
The problem with compulsory education laws as currently written, is that they does not take into account a child’s right to a safe and high quality education. As a result, a parent can be charged with educational neglect if they fail to send their child to a public school even if the school is unsafe and systemically academically low performing. Because of Zip Code Education laws, many of us parents throughout the country lack opportunities to either choose better schools or turn around unsafe, low-performing schools in our neighborhoods.
So imagine my surprise when I learned about Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association which challenges the constitutionality of compulsory union dues. As it turns out, 10 teachers realized that their freedom of choice in the form of being able to choose whether or not to join and pay dues to a union is also being harmed. Like parents, they too are tired of being compelled by law to pay money into a National Education Association affiliate that doesn’t serve their interests.
Upon reading the lawsuit, as a parent of color, I chose to be in concert with these teachers because no one should be forced to pay for a service that infringes on their principles, and violates their freedoms of speech and association. They deserve choice, the same options parents like I, from Connecticut to Washington State, should have in deciding what schools our children should attend.
Then Friedrichs made me think this: Now teachers can see, first-hand, how parents feel when they are forced to send their children to schools that are unsafe and chronically low-performing. That teachers can see how our children are denied access to high-quality education and safe learning environments. That teachers can understand why so many parents fight hard for learning environments that foster learning, prepare them for college and technical schools, and help them become civic leaders.
Parents such as I will be following Friedrichs very closely, and supporting these 10 teachers in hopes of them winning a victory. Because once they win, families will also file lawsuits against compulsory education laws and for expanding Parent Power. I suspect families in Washington State, where charter schools have been rejected by the state supreme court there, will have their own suit ready before then. We hope those teachers, along with others, will join alongside us to fight for high-quality schools that are safe and fit for the wellbeing of our children.