Education and School Choice, Op-Eds

Education Equality and Choice: Creating A Positive Future

Last week was a big week for people who care about education reform. National School Choice Week stormed the nation with more than 400 events across all 50 states. More than half the nation’s governors issued proclamations supporting the week. The week shone a light on school choice in all its forms and got people talking about educational options for our children.

The good news is that school choice continues to advance across the nation. Only if this progress continues to build will our nation’s future be secure.

Economist Joseph Stiglitz observed, “a highly educated population is a fundamental driver of economic growth.” American workers must be prepared to compete in a global economy, and the sobering truth is, we’re not there yet. American students lag behind their international peers in every area except self-confidence: They believe they are better than anyone else, even as their test scores lag behind students’ in other nations. But abundant self-esteem alone won’t get them good jobs.

Contrary to what opponents of reform repeatedly insist, the problem with American schools is not inadequate spending. Inflation-adjusted spending per pupil has roughly quadrupled since the 1950s. Most educators today have more resources than their predecessors ever dreamed of.

We must resolve that failure is not an option. To start, we must design school policy to benefit children, not to protect the interests of the education establishment. The purpose of schools is to prepare kids for success, not to enrich unions and reelect politicians.

How do we ensure the interests of children come first? By returning control to the ones who know children and their needs best: families and communities. Washington cannot successfully micromanage millions of students in thousands of schools across the country. That’s the job of devoted parents, hardworking teachers and invested communities.

Perhaps most important, we must emphasize accountability, choice and competition in education. There is no bureaucratic one-size-fits-all technique to teach kids. We must offer parents more options, and then hold institutions accountable for their performance.

We know what works. Choice in all its forms — vouchers, tax credits, scholarships, charter schools and public school choice — improves educational performance. We must create new and better private alternatives. We also must force public schools to do better.

Throughout the country, in swelling numbers, parents are demanding choice. Lawmakers are responding, and as a result, more children are benefiting from effective education that truly benefits them. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie used his State of the State speech to call for school choice in failing districts — providing “Opportunity Scholarships” to needy children. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed expanding the New Orleans voucher program and adding an educational tax rebate. Indiana expanded both state vouchers and charter schools, and its efforts survived a court challenge. North Carolina provided a tax credit for private school tuition. Ohio and Wisconsin gave vouchers to more students. In all, last year more than a dozen states enacted new school choice legislation. Currently, legislation is pending in another 30 states. Even the U.S. Congress joined in, reviving the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

School choice is not just a set of policies. It is a moral imperative. Perhaps Bill Cosby, a supporter of National School Choice Week, put it best. He said, “We have a moral and societal obligation to give our children the opportunity to succeed in school, at work, and in life.”

Michelle D. Bernard is the president & CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy and is “IN” for National School Choice Week.

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