School choice is about kids. It’s about improving schools. It’s about increased educational opportunities for all families. It represents some of our highest American ideals because it’s about real freedom to access the best classroom model that will meet the needs of an individual student. It offers young people the opportunity for success in life as productive and prosperous citizens. However, it is largely missing from the dominant educational system in America today.
School choice includes public school options, such as public school transfers and public charter schools, as well as private school options, including tax credit scholarships or vouchers. It also refers to the flexibility provided by online learning through virtual schools and home schooling. Expanding school choice options is necessary because many families have no way to access high performing schools or to meet the individual needs of a child who may not be benefitting from or thriving in a traditional public school setting. The demand for school choice is high with upwards of 60% of parents supporting private school choice. Additionally, of moms with kids in k-12 education, 62% support charter schools while 66% of moms support scholarships or vouchers.
Yet the actual number of students being served by school choice programs is a tiny percent of our nation’s total students.
There are 48 private school choice programs in 23 states. 260,000 students were enrolled in these programs in 2013, which represented a 69% increase since 2000. In 2013, ten states enacted 14 new or expanded private school choice programs, but it is the viewpoint of Jason Bedrick, a policy analyst with Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom, that “Most of these laws are overly limited….”
According to a survey by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), there were close to one million names on waitlists for public charter schools across the nation during the 2012-13 school year. For the 2011-12 school year, that number was 610,000. The “survey demonstrates that parental demand continues to outpace what is an already increasing supply,” stated Nina Rees, president and CEO of NAPCS. More than 1.6 million kids attend charter schools, which are always public schools.
School choice, whether it’s provided through a public charter school or a private school, allows for innovative educational models to exist that rarely see the light of day in traditional public schools. A pilot program with some new technology or a new textbook tested out in one or two fortunate, traditional public schools in a district is no comparison to independent schools-such as charter schools- that offer a comprehensive plan with input from the community, parents, and educators to serve specific needs or goals.
Public charter schools may be focused on specific learning models such as expeditionary learning, multilingual studies, science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, emphasis- to cite a few.
In Atlanta, Ivy Prep Academy provides a single-gender school and offers an extended school day. Watching a class of kindergarteners, all boys, file into class in an orderly line as they sing about being” Ivy Prep Scholars” is priceless! Other independent schools in the area may focus on fine arts or Montessori learning or serve as career academies.
In Milwaukee, many families are able to participate in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program which allows access to participating private schools. Hope Christian Schools offer a great success story in the central city with three grade schools and one high school. Amazingly, high school students there have achieved 100 percent college acceptance, which they celebrate with a rally akin to signing as college athletes, with much pride and applause for their accomplishments.
In New Orleans, families now have access to so many different choices for their children’s educations that the state Recovery School District holds a schools expo at the Superdome. Parents can explore a plethora of options including almost one hundred schools that may be traditional public schools, public charter schools, or parochial ones. If having this many school options seems daunting, the process is made much simpler by the new OneApp system whereby parents simply fill out one application that goes to multiple schools.
The reality is that the opportunities for new approaches and options in education are endless and should never be limited to a single traditional public school that is mandated according to zip code education policies.
School choice is about boldness. It’s about innovation. It’s about real power for parents to choose the educational model, setting, and outcomes for their own children rather than the passive acceptance of a bureaucratic educational system that was designed as a factory model. And it will require action and persistence to obtain even more school choice for more of our nation’s kids who simply do not have it today.
Rhonda Gatch is the director of Moms For School Choice. More details at www.momsforschoolchoice.com.