WASHINGTON—Sheila Jackson knew her fourth-grade daughter Shawnee struggled in math. After talking to Shawnee’s teacher, she also knew the teacher was not willing to give Shawnee the extra attention she needed to succeed.
“I knew that she had potential to do better, but in a failing school under a failing school system it just wasn’t going to happen,” Jackson said.
When she looked into other options, she realized she could not afford the schools that would help her daughter. Then she found the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school choice program in Washington, D.C., that gives low-income students vouchers, allowing parents greater power to decide where their children attend school.
Jackson switched her daughter to a prep school and Shawnee graduated valedictorian of her high school in June 2013. She has since received awards from the engineering, mathematics, and science department of St. Augustine’s University.
“Where math was her weak subject, it has now become her strong subject,” Jackson said.
Jackson shared her story last week at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s 2014 Road to Majority Conference. She is one of many parents who have seen their children’s lives improved through a school choice program. As the influence of Common Core has increased over the past few years, so have school choice programs, developing at the state and local level to give parents more say in their children’s education.
“We agreed that the education of our children was important enough that we as taxpayers would fund it,” said Leslie Hiner from The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “That’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that then the government has to be the sole provider of that education, the sole user of those funds from taxpayers.”
As of January, 23 states and Washington D.C. have 49 private school choice programs, according to the Friedman Foundation. That’s almost double the 27 programs that existed in 2010.
Last week, Florida added to the number of choice programs by passing a bill that creates a Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts Program. It allows parents of special needs students to set up a state-funded account for their child’s educational expenses, including tuition, tutoring, and curriculum. Florida is the second state, after Arizona, to implement an Education Savings Account (ESA) program. On its website, the Goldwater Institute calls Arizona’s ESA program “a new frontier for education reform because parents have more options for their children with these savings accounts than under any other education reform initiative in American history.”
Economist and Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman argued strongly for the voucher system, something 13 states as well as Washington had established by the start of 2014, according to The Friedman Foundation. These allow families to send their children to private schools using the money normally spent for the child’s education by a public school.
The Friedman Foundation also identifies seven states, as of January 2014, that have individual tax credit or eduction programs that give parents state income tax relief for approved education expenses, including private school tuition, textbooks, or tutors. This reduces the financial burden of pursuing educational options outside the public school system.
Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Center for Educational Freedom, explained how these school choice programs provide greater accountability than federal standards like Common Core: “It has immediate accountability because if you’re not satisfied with the school that you’re using, you can take your children and the money attached to them somewhere else.”