This week, thousands of students and families across the country are celebrating National School Choice Week because they are benefiting from programs that have brought them hope and help. These programs are designed so that families are free to find the best educational option that meets their children’s needs.
Over the last 20 years, the number of school choice programs has substantially increased from just eight programs in seven states (1998) to 65 programs in 29 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia (2018). Yet, despite the popularity among parents and the growing bipartisan support that school choice enjoys, strong opposition still exists to school choice programs. Unfortunately, the arguments are based on myths and a lack of understanding as to the nature of school choice.
School choice might be better described as parental choice because these programs simply enable parents to choose the school, or alternative educational method, that will best help their children succeed. Most would agree that parents have the primary responsibility to ensure that their children’s needs are met. After all, parents know their children best, and have the greatest understanding of how their children best learn and grow.
Yet, when it comes to education, the vast majority of American parents are forced to send their children to the school that is assigned to their zip code, regardless of whether that is the best method and environment for their children. But what if this school is unsafe? What if the child has educational needs that cannot be met at the local public school? What if the parents think a specific type of learning model is best for their child? What if the local public school does not or cannot provide the values-based and moral instruction that parents want their children to have? What if the parents desire their children to learn truth and academics from a faith-based curriculum?
This is where school choice programs are so beneficial, because they give parents the ability to direct their tax dollars to the best educational choice for their children. Recent studies have shown that parents actually value a safe and values-driven environment first and foremost for their children’s educational experience. While academic success is naturally important, this is ranked below safety and values-based instruction when parents are able to choose a school.
A recent statistic shows that 78 percent of privately educated students attend faith-based or religious schools. These schools primarily serve low- to middle-income families, many of whom make sacrifices to send their children to these schools while still paying taxes to support the public schools. School choice programs correct this injustice by allowing struggling families to direct tax dollars to their children’s education.
Without these programs, thousands of children would be trapped in failing schools or educational environments that are not helping — but rather hindering — their academic success.
While the design of school choice programs varies, the best programs which help the most students are those that provide maximum flexibility. For example, education savings accounts (ESA), the newest type of school choice operating in five states, allows parents to access funds set aside for them through a type of debit card, and then use these funds for a variety of educational expenses, including tutoring, school tuition, textbooks, educational therapy, and online courses. The money in ESAs goes directly to the parents, not the schools.
Tax credit scholarship programs, offered in 18 states, also empower parents by allowing families to choose the best schools for their children. These programs are structured to allow a tax credit or deduction to individuals or businesses that donate to a nonprofit scholarship granting organization which in turn provides scholarships to students and families most in need. In several states, these organizations have the freedom and flexibility to establish their own criteria, adding to the number of students they are able to help.
Whether a tax credit scholarship program, education savings accounts, or another program, the evidence of success from these programs proves that school choice reaps tremendous benefits in the areas of student achievement and parent satisfaction.
Indeed, school choice is an excellent thing to celebrate this week as it is expanding opportunities and success for our nation’s most valued treasure — our children.
Maureen Van Den Berg is policy director of the American Association of Christian School, one of the leading organizations of Christian schools in America.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.