Over the past decade, a new form of school choice has begun to emerge that holds revolutionary flexibility for parents.
Three years after the coronavirus first appeared on our shores, millions of American students are still suffering from record learning loss. After teachers’ union leaders lobbied to keep schools locked down for months on end, many children regressed academically in ways we’re still uncovering. Thankfully, however, last week highlighted one potential solution, with National School Choice Week working to put parents, not union bosses, in charge of the American educational system.
School choice operates under a single premise: Parents know their child’s unique needs, wants, desires, and learning interests better than anyone else. No two children are alike, meaning parents should serve as student advocates by selecting the curricular program that works best for their own children.
Students can pursue school choice through many forms of education in both the private and public sectors. In the open enrollment option, students attend a public school located outside their traditional neighborhood boundaries. Other parents may select charter schools, institutions funded with taxpayer dollars but given more flexibility than traditional district schools.
Magnet schools with intensive curricula focused on one subject such as science or art may be the perfect fit for some students. But other children may respond better to online and virtual learning, or homeschooling with their parents. Many states have also developed opportunity scholarship programs, which give families a stipend to select the school that best meets their needs.
First created by Arizona in 2011 for special needs children, Education Savings Accounts provide parents with a percentage of the funds that the state would have spent on a child’s education. Those funds get placed into an account that the family can use for any combination of educational expenses they desire — from textbooks to extra one-on-one counseling to tuition at an independent school.
Since the creation of ESAs, seven other states have adopted the concept, with more following suit in legislative sessions this year. Parents originally started this movement to provide special needs children with flexible funding for specialized lessons that public schools often struggle to provide. While the ESA program began with parents of special needs children, Arizona went back and passed a universal ESA law last year.
All of the inherent flaws of a one-size-fits-all approach to education were demonstrated during the pandemic when groups of unelected officials and union bosses could keep schools closed and block millions of children from in-person learning. School choice provides the best solution by putting the power in the educational system back where it belongs — with parents.
From Jan. 22 through 28, millions of Americans celebrated National School Choice Week at thousands of events nationwide. Many of those events included school fairs where parents can find information about the quality educational options available to them in their area. These fairs can serve as a great tool for people who have children of their own, or have a young niece or nephew, grandchild, or friend — in other words, just about everyone.
As a parent myself, I encourage you to embrace the opportunity National School Choice Week presents, both to learn more about school choice and to encourage lawmakers to expand options in your state. The next generation will thank you for your efforts.