In America, a good education is the great equalizer, something that gives our children the chance to fulfill their potential no matter how they fared in the lottery of life. That’s why the more we can do to empower parents to pick and choose the schools that best meet their kids’ needs, the better. It’s one way for us to live up to our billing as the "Land of Opportunity."
In the coming days, as part of National School Choice Week, there will be thousands of events across all 50 states to raise awareness about educational opportunities.
People from traditional public schools, charter schools and magnet schools to private schools, online learning and homeschooling will be saying they are "all in" for school choice.
I will be too, and here’s why. When parents have the ability to select the best learning environment for their kids, they thrive and so do their communities.
According to one independent study, students in the [Washington] D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program were reading 3.1 months ahead of those in the traditional system.
The high school graduation rate among students in the D.C. program has been measured at 91 percent.
Compare to that the Washington, D.C. public school on-time graduation rate of 48.8 percent. What’s more, research shows that every dollar spent on the D.C. program has produced $2.62 of benefits in increased earnings potential.
School choice works, and its reach is growing. Since the first charter school law passed in 1991 in Minnesota, 41 more states and the District of Columbia have passed charter school laws. All told, there are 48 private school choice programs serving more than 250,000 students nationwide.
Of course, there is always more work to be done. Last year, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia proposed – and the House passed – an initiative that would allow states to have Title I funds follow students to the public school of their choice, including charter schools.
As the author in 1994 of the first school choice language ever to become law, I’m proud of the House for continuing to blaze this trail and hope leaders in both parties will embrace this idea.
This means taking on entrenched interests within the political and education establishments that view school choice as a threat.
Recently, for instance, the Department of Justice sued the state of Louisiana to try and shut down its opportunity scholarship program.
Several pitched battles have been fought over the years to keep the D.C. program alive as well. Far from any kind of threat, these programs are models for the rest of the country, as are the students who cherish these opportunities.
Consider the words of Lesly Alvarez, an inner-city student in the D.C. program, the only one in the country supported by the federal government. “I know I cannot change the minds of the adults who doubt the value of the Opportunity Scholarship Program,” she said at a 2011 congressional hearing. “I know that I need to work hard every day to overcome my obstacles and demonstrate the value of my scholarship so that more kids like me can receive it too.”
Students like Lesly and countless parents and grassroots leaders are out there every day carrying this banner. We ought to have their backs.
National School Choice Week is a chance to do not only that, but also to encourage people from all walks of life to join this cause. Together, we can see to it that nothing stands in the way of our children’s pursuit of the American Dream.