Choices provide framework for educational excellence
A high-quality education system is imperative for the future of our country. Providing parents with the opportunity to choose the best environment for their children to learn and excel in is not a choice, it is an obligation. For the past two decades, I have fought for families to have a choice when it comes to their child’s education.
Public schools serve the vast majority of students and are critical to the educational success of our nation, and educational choice doesn’t diminish the role public education plays in preparing students for post-academic life. However, if a school – public or private – is not meeting a child’s educational needs, options should be accessible. Typically other options are available, but at a cost. Options should be available to students regardless of income or zip code. The Choice Scholarship Program is a tool that allows parents additional options to make sure their children receive an education tailored to fit their needs.
Nationally, our educational system has fallen behind countries like China, South Korea, Finland, Singapore and Canada. This should serve as a wake-up call given the global dynamics of the 21st century marketplace. Are we doing enough to prepare American students for future success? Or, is a new model needed to restore gains in achievement and learning?
When compared to 34 other industrialized countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math, according to scores from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment. I firmly believe that American students, parents and teachers should have all the resources available to them to be leading the way.
Choice programs, charter schools and other education options were designed to inject competition in education systems because competition produces innovation and advancement. I have heard from countless parents who use the Choice Scholarship Program describing it as a godsend for their child. Their son or daughter may have been a victim of bullying or learned in a different way, or perhaps they needed a school that fit their special needs. Different schools offer different solutions that may specifically address certain children’s needs. However, there are still thousands of families who are unable to offer the best option for their children.
Both, the Indiana Supreme Court and the United Sates Supreme Court have ruled that vouchers are constitutional. The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld the voucher program expressing that vouchers do not violate the state’s prohibition against public funding of religious institutions because parents and children are the primary beneficiaries of the vouchers. Just as a college student can use public funds to attend a private university, a K-12 student should be able to use public funds to attend a private school.
Currently, 255,000 students nationwide attend private schools of their parents’ choice through a voucher or tax-credit program, in addition to 2.3 million students who are enrolled at public charter schools as their preferred option, according to the Friedman Foundation of Educational Funding. Indiana currently has 30,000 students in charter schools and approximately 9,400 students receiving vouchers.
Our goal is not to have one school or types of schooling do better than another, but to have all schools achieve excellence. All children deserve to have the same opportunities to excel academically regardless of the financial circumstances in which they are born.
In Indiana, the Choice Scholarship Program provides students from low and middle income families additional options to best serve the academic needs of the student. The power of parents to choose and be engaged in their children’s education is critical to the long-term success of our state and country.