National School Choice Week started Monday, focusing attention on efforts of parents, activists, legislators, students and grass-roots networks to promote school choice programs throughout the United States. Legislators should take heed and this year expand choice programs for all students in an effort to fix the country’s ailing public education system.
School choice, in the broad sense, involves giving parents and students more power in educational pursuits and more opportunities. Parents and students select the school — public or private — that best serves their needs, regardless of distance or school district boundaries. If their child is accepted, parents direct their education tax dollars where they think their child will benefit most, increasing competition among schools and providing incentive for improved educational outcomes and achievement.
Under the status quo, public schools, typically controlled to a large extent by their employee unions — enjoy a monopoly on tax-supported education. Students are assigned a school based on geography, although some districts allow students to apply to other district schools.
If parents want to send their children to a private school, they essentially pay twice for education — in taxes and tuition.
As the late Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman noted “The only solution is to break the monopoly, introduce competition, and give the customers alternatives.”
“National School Choice Week is the largest celebration of education reform in American history,” Andrew Campanella, vice president of National School Choice Week, told us. More than 350 events are planned for the week, up from 150 last year.
“Across the country, another American child drops out of a public school every 26 seconds. That’s a national tragedy,” he said. “We can’t keep looking parents in the eyes and saying, ‘Your child’s failing school will be fixed in five years.’ We need to give them immediate options so that their children don’t become statistics. Those options include better public schools, high-performing public charter schools, access to private and virtual schools and enhanced home schooling.” We agree.
“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,” Friedman said. “We are far from that ultimate result. If we had that system of free choice we would also have a system of competition, innovation, which would change the character of education.”