A growing number of Americans are concerned about the increase of government intrusion in their lives. One area that this is undeniable is in our National system of education. In years past there was more autonomy allowed by states, local districts and even schools within districts. Flexibility was allowed and parents had a voice in curriculum, discipline and school policies for their children’s education.
Today’s PTA’s are mainly fundraising organizations for our schools’ over-tapped budgets. In years past they were as powerful as the School Boards. As laws continue to increase determining more and more aspects of our system of education, the power of parental involvement has been allocated to legislators. Laws have been made to eliminate school prayer, eliminate religious extra-curricular clubs from campuses, and Federal Laws are forcing a National Curriculum called the Common Core. California recently passed a law that prevents exemption from vaccinations for philosophical or religious reasons for public school children.
For these reasons and others, parents are opting out of traditional public education and looking for alternatives.
Between fall 2003 and fall 2013, the number of White students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools decreased from 28.4 million to 25.2 million, and the percentage who were White decreased from 59 to 50 percent. NCES
Milton Friedman, one of this country’s biggest advocates for liberty was at the forefront of the school choice movement long before the tentacles of government involvement had reached their current levels. Along with his wife Rose, he formed the Friedman Foundation in 1996 to promote parental choice in education. Of this he said, “Our goal is to have a system in which every family in the U.S. will be able to choose for itself the school to which its children go. We are far from that ultimate result. If we had that – a system of free choice – we would also have a system of competition, innovation, which would change the character of education.”
The options available for school choice vary by state. 40% of states offer some kind of school choice outside the public school system. Within the public school system charter schools and magnet schools offer somewhat of a “choice” with specialized programs that can address issues such as educating the ESL population through special curriculum. Charter and magnet schools can offer an emphasis of focused learning for the Arts, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to prepare students for further education and careers in these fields.
These charter schools are so attractive academically that some parents who have homeschooled their children for religious reasons are choosing them as a better option to prepare them for college.
School Choice is not an issue for America’s 1%. With wealth comes choices for the best education regardless of the price through private institutions. Providing school choice for parents in America is really about levelling the field for education equality amid the growing chasm of income inequality. Proof of this is that it is the economically privileged white population that is exiting public education.
Homeschooling is on the rise, with an increasingly more diverse demographic, as an inexpensive alternative for lower income families. Education Savings Accounts are available in some states to assist families that homeschool to offset expenses such as books, and online education programs.
In an effort to recapture per student government funding, some districts are creating programs and on- line courses to facilitate homeschooled students. Charter schools are being created for just this purpose both in the private and public education sector.
Voucher programs can make it possible for economically challenged families to provide a superior education that could help their children to break the cycle of poverty. The Blaine Laws are an obstacle in the voucher program because they consider using tax money for religious schools to be a violation of separation of church and state. It could be argued that taxpayers should have a say in the distribution of their own money regardless of religious affiliation.
Intra and inter-district transfers are another way to level the education playing field for disadvantaged minorities. Studies show that lower income districts underperform higher income districts. Often the registration process in districts is so complicated, that though transfers are possible, many do not take advantage of them. Many states do not allow transfers or limit them to a very small percentage. It takes a pro-active program to reach out to underprivileged families to make them aware of what choices are available to them.
It is interesting to see the small percentage of those who take advantage of school choice in states where it is available. It would make one conclude that there is a lack of awareness and/or an overly complicated application process that prevents parents from utilizing them. School voucher and Personal Tax credit options seem to be the most utilized of the choice options.
The ability to enroll children in the school of choice is a fundamental parental right. In a country that promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness- it must be guarded. Education equality could be the first step in the road to income equality throughout our nation. School choice is the vehicle that makes it possible.