Providing more students with a quality K-12 education

Overview

School choice for children pre-K to grade 12 is a proven way of improving outcomes.  To the maximum extent possible, education policy should be shaped by parents, teachers and local communities – in that order.  States should compete with each other to create the education systems that will attract families and businesses.  And the federal government should facilitate and support local innovation.  

Education is the great equalizer.  So it’s crucial that we get it right.

A child’s education shouldn’t just depend on their zipcode – and it shouldn’t be derailed because we weren’t courageous enough to overcome the status quo.

Watch this inspiring video on education, the great equalizer:

 

 

  • Parents are not happy with public schools and want more choice

    As has been true for decades, government provided education for kids depends primarily on where they live.  Kids can attend school for as assigned to them based on their zip code for free.

    For a while, that worked well.  But as time passed, there has been increased desire for choice– the ability for a family to have the same government support for something other than their local public school.

    This issue become more prominent in the 1980s and 1990s, as increased attention was paid to how bad schools were getting, particularly in urban areas.

    Today, many parents are increasingly anxious about sending their children to the local public school they’re assigned to based on their zipcode.  As shown in the Gallup chart below, only about 30% of parents have confidence in public schools, compared with 60% in the 1970s:

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    A recent poll from Paul Diperna at The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice shows the overwhelming desire among parents for more choices:

    “When asked for a preferred school type, a plurality of Americans chose a private school (41%) as a first option for their child. A little more than one-third of respondents (36%) would select a regular public school. Nearly equal proportions would select a public charter school (12%) or opt to homeschool their child (9%).

    “Those private preferences signal a glaring disconnect with actual school enrollment patterns in the United States. The reality check is profound.”

  • Too many public schools just aren’t cutting it

    Unfortunately, these concerns are for good reason.  Too many schools today just aren’t cutting it. Despite record level spending, test scores around the country have flatlined, and at levels indicating American students aren’t as competitive as they could be with kids from other countries.  

    See this chart from Cato and National Review:

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    And while the high school graduation has improved to around 80%, many schools are allowing kids to graduate without having the basic knowledge and skills needed for success.  The result?  More than three out of every ten high school grads needs remedial education when they go to college because they aren’t prepared to succeed.

  • Common Core fueled the desire for choice even further

    The federal government’s seizure of even more control over local education through Common Core — which allowed states to get a much-desired waiver from some onerous federal requirements if they adopted certain national standards — has further increased many parents’ desire for school choice.

    Hand holding a pencil filling out a standardized test form

    While Common Core has some benefits, it has served to further strip parents of their ability to make decisions regarding their child’s education.  More than 50% of parents oppose Common Core.

    As Frederick Hess explains in his chapter of the reform conservative manifesto Room to Grow, the federal government only provides 10% of the funding for public K-12 education yet dictates so many rules and regulations that it destroys local education innovation and often ends up diverting money away from students and towards compliance costs.  Washington tried their hand at controlling K-12 education — and proved they’re not up to the task.

  • Educational choice is often limited to the rich

    Unfortunately, sending their children to school somewhere other than the local public school is often something only families with significant financial resources are able to do.  But this shouldn’t be the case.  Public policies should aim to enable families to send their kids to a school that best meets their individual goals and needs.

    Curious about the leading cities for school choice?  See OL’s post here.

  • Make federal education dollars portable

    Today, federal most funding for education is sent directly to schools.  The Department of Education uses a formula to determine how it will distribute the funds among schools, considering factors like how much support that school gets from the local community’s property taxes and the economic background of families whose kids go there.  

    Instead of continuing this model, which is designed to support a model in which students attend their local public school, one solution is to make federal education dollars portable - in other words to provide aid directly to families to use it on their kids' education as they saw fit instead of giving it to schools to then give to kids.  

    A compelling reason to make it as easy as possible for families to exercise choice?  Because it works.

     The evidence shows that school choice leads to positive outcomes.

    Cato’s Jason Bedrick summarizes the results of a seminal study showing that school choice produces outcomes:

    “Perhaps most importantly, research shows that educational choice works. The near-consensus of random-assignment studies — the gold standard of social science research — finds that educational choice programs improve students’ academic performance and increases their likelihood of graduating high school and enrolling in college.

    Not only do participating students benefit, but so do those who remain in their assigned schools. More than 30 studies find that choice programs produce modest but statistically significant positive effects in district schools as a result of the increased choice and competition.”

  • Make sure families with unique needs have sufficient options

    Congress is floating new ideas to expand educational opportunities for children with disabilities, military families, and low-income families in Washington, D.C. by funding several different school choice programs.

    This ideas, bundled together in The Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities Through Education (CHOICE) Act, would ensure students with disabilities get more school choice by directing funds to startup programs aimed at allowing them to attend a school that is able to better handle special needs -- and would expand opportunities for those states that already have such programs. The bill would also create a pilot program with the Department of Defense to provide scholarships to on-base militaries families to better enable them to send their children to a school of their choice. Finally, the bill would make reforms to the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program to reach more children in the District of Columbia.

    You can read more about the CHOICE Act on Senator Scott’s webpage here. You can also find out more details on the Senate bill here and more on the House bill here.

     

  • Increase access to charter schools

    Improving our country’s charter schools is another important option for providing parents more choice and say in their child’s education.  

    One way to do that?  By passing The Expanding Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act, which gives states and local communities greater control over the establishing of charter schools while streamlining the grant application process.  The legislation also allows charter schools to serve pre-kindergarten or post-secondary school students, and encourages charter schools to focus on special populations, including at-risk students, students with disabilities, and English learners.

    The bill details include the following:

    "The legislation directs the U.S. Secretary of Education "to conduct national activities that include: providing state entities with technical assistance in awarding subgrants to charter school developers; disseminating best practices regarding public charter schools; evaluating the charter school program’s impact, including its impact on student achievement; awarding competitive grants directly to charter school developers in states that have not applied for or received a charter school grant to open, replicate, and expand charter schools; and awarding competitive grants to charter management organizations or nonprofit organizations that oversee and coordinate a group of such organizations to expand and replicate high-quality charter schools."

    You can read more on Senator Mark Kirk’s website, or read a summary from Education Week.

  • Make homeschooling more affordable

    Homeschooling is effective and something many parents want - but it needs reform. Important to remember is that homeschooling doesn’t just provide kids a good education.  It also says taxpayers money.  According to The Heritage Foundation: “Homeschooling families are making a valuable contribution to American Education without relying on taxpayer assistance, saving taxpayers as much as $4.4 billion to $9.9 billion annually by forgoing taxpayer-funded public education.”

    Homeschooling is estimated to save taxpayers anywhere between $5 billion and $10 billion each year.

    Senator Mike Lee and Representative Luke Messer have sponsored a bill that would enable more parents to provide their kids a more affordable homeschooling education.  

    The Lee/Messer bill would permit homeschooling expenses to be classified as “qualified education expenses,” allowing them to enjoy the same treatment as private schools for Coverdell Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs). An ESA allows parents to grow their money tax-free and only pay taxes on it upon withdrawal. With the Lee/Messer bill, parents could establish and use this fund to pay for their homeschooled children’s educational expenses. These ESAs are available only to single filers making less than $110,000 ($220,000 if filing a joint return), so they are especially helpful for middle class families seeking greater educational choices for their children.  You can read Senator Lee’s press release on this proposal here or watch Representative Messer speak on the House floor for his bill. Further, you can read more legislative details about the Senate bill here and the House bill here.

  • Tim Scott
    U.S. Senator and advocate for school choice for all

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    "When parents have more choices, the kid has a better chance."

    Why They Matter

    From his U.S. Senate bio:

    Senator Scott was sworn in to the U.S. Senate in January 2013. He has launched his Opportunity Agenda, a new way forward including robust initiatives that give our students and workers the greatest chance to succeed. Tim knows that success is created in studio apartments and garages, at kitchen tables, and in classrooms across the nation – not in government conference rooms in Washington.

    His agenda will empower Americans through economic ...
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  • Frederick M. Hess
    Thought leader shaping the K-12 education landscape

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    “One of the greatest threats to upward mobility in American life is the mediocrity of our public schools…”

    Why They Matter

    From his AEI bio:

    “An educator, political scientist and author, Frederick M. Hess studies K-12 and higher education issues. His books include “The Cage-Busting Teacher,” “Cage-Busting Leadership,” “Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age,” “Read More

  • Brian Sandoval
    Nevada Governor who has helped make choice available to families across his state

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    “We’re going to provide these children every opportunity”

    Why They Matter

    From his bio at gov.nv.gov:

    “Brian Sandoval was elected the 30th Governor of Nevada in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. In 2005 he was appointed United States District Judge for the District of Nevada and in 2002 he was elected Attorney General of Nevada. He has previously served as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission and in the Nevada Legislature.

    His accomplishments as Governor include work to make Nevada the most veteran and military-friendly state in the nation, transforming Nevada’s approach to economic development, ...

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  • Betsy DeVos
    A leading lady in the school reform movement

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    “We are a part of an education revolution”

    Why They Matter

    Betsy DeVos was recently tapped by Donald Trump to run the Department of Education.

    From her bio at the American Federation for Children: 

    “Betsy DeVos has been a leader in the political arena and the national school reform movement for more than two decades. As a board member of the Education Freedom Fund, a Michigan-based scholarship organization she led with her husband, DeVos devoted significant time and energy to ensuring that children from disadvantaged families have educational options and ...

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  • This Private Scholarship Program Gives Hope to Florida’s Neediest Students

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  • This Charter School Advocate Isn’t Letting Mayor de Blasio Keep Her and Her Students Down

    Time and again, advocates for school choice find themselves inhibited from providing quality education to students by Democratic lawmakers and their teachers’ union allies. Yet one such advocate in New York City is not letting the city’s Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio keep her and her students down. From Capital New York: …

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  • Hispanic Students Are Benefiting From Arizona’s School Choice Program

    Jonathan Butcher from the Goldwater Institute and Jorge Lima from The LIBRE Institute examine how Arizona’s groundbreaking school choice program is helping hispanic students get a better education and why it should be expanded to other states. Angela Ramirez, a stay-at-home-mom living in Arizona, is trying to find a great …

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