Republican congressional gains, exposure of unions, enhance parental choices
Tucked in among poor test scores, falling literacy rates and slipping standards of far too many American public schools is the good news heralding the expansion of school choice across the nation. As of this month according to Dr. Edwin Feulner of the Heritage Foundation, 18 states and Washington, D.C., have policies that support private-school choice. But public-school choice options are also continuing to grow. On top of that, there are millions of children participating in K–12 courses online. Meanwhile, home-schooling and charter schools are becoming more widespread.
Arizona is among the groundbreaking reformers. In April, Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation creating an Education Savings Account program for special-needs students. Under it, Arizona deposits 90 percent of the state per-pupil education funding into a savings account that parents control. They can use it for private-school tuition, online education, home-schooling, or to save for college. The funds follow the child instead of automatically going to the neighborhood public school, and what is unused in one year can be rolled over to the next. Up to 17,000 special-needs students are expected to be eligible for the program this year.
In fact, The Wall Street Journal has already dubbed 2011 “The Year of School Choice,” noting: Choice by itself won’t lift U.S. K-12 education to where it needs to be. Eliminating teacher tenure and measuring teachers against student performance are also critical. Standards must be higher than they are.
But choice is essential to driving reform because it erodes the union-dominated monopoly that assigns children to schools based on where they live. Unions defend the monopoly to protect jobs for their members, but education should above all serve students and the larger goal of a society in which everyone has an opportunity to prosper.
This year’s choice gains are a major step forward, and they are due in large part to Republican gains in last fall’s elections combined with growing recognition by many Democrats that the unions are a reactionary force that is denying opportunity to millions. The ultimate goal should be to let the money follow the children to whatever school their parents want them to attend.
The Boston Globe now reports that within weeks after Indiana began the nation’s broadest school voucher program, thousands of students have transferred from public to private schools, causing a spike in enrollment at some Catholic institutions that were recently on the brink of closing.
In July we covered the massive fraud in test scores in Georgia and Pennsylvania — reaching into the highest levels of school administrations.
Given a choice, parents opt for what’s best for their children. The good news is that option is now increasingly available.