The American education system is in need of reform. According to a Pew Research Center report, educational attainment is low, and American students rank in the middle on science, mathematics, and reading, placing them behind their peers in other countries. Parents concerned with the character and morals of their children are also often disappointed by the secularization that has taken hold in many schools. Americans, in particular Christians, need options.
Top down control of the education system by Washington, which has turned education into a bureaucratic endeavor, has been a failure. Repeated endeavors from the federal government since 1965 has led to falling standards, while oversight, bureaucracy, meddling, and parent dissatisfaction have all increased. The blame for this rests squarely on both the Republican and Democratic parties. This shift from the norm of locally funded and locally controlled schools has led parents to search for other options, which in turn led to the birth of the school choice movement.
There are multiple ways to provide the options parents want to meet the unique needs of their children. Here are a few:
1. Charter Schools
Charter schools are similar to public schools in that they are tuition free, are non-selective, and are operated by an independent board of governors. They are required to comply with all state laws regarding religion, discrimination, and employment. The difference between a standard public school and a charter public school is flexibility. They are allowed to have a mission, develop a curriculum related to the mission, and select teachers able to achieve the mission. Charter schools partner with parents to meet the needs of their children.
2. Education Savings Accounts
Education savings accounts are another method of providing parents with choice. Rather than send the per-pupil funding the state would have sent to the neighborhood school, the state deposits that amount into a savings account on behalf of a student whose parents select this option. With this money, parents are able to craft a slew of simultaneous learning options for their children. For example, a child may take an online class while enrolled in a charter school and receive private tutoring for the violin. In 2019, there are many options for receiving an education. Education Savings Accounts allow parents to find a quality one.
K-12 vouchers are scholarships that allow families to send their children to private schools. They are often used to provide assistance for children with disabilities, low income students, or students who are trapped in a failing school.
4. A Return to Local School Board Control
Education-related decision making should be returned to the state and local levels. Historically, it was the state and local school board that handled education matters. This preserved liberty by respecting the principle of federalism and promoted the involvement and control of those most concerned with the welfare of students—parents, local officials, and members of the school board. This system was progressively abandoned. Beginning in the 1960’s and up to the present day, the compliance issues and costs associated with federal programs such as Common Core and the Every Student Succeeds Act have become burdensome. State and local districts are better positioned to understand and respond to the issues faced by parents and students than federal bureaucrats.
5. Tax Credits
A tax credit scholarship program allows people to get a tax credit for donating to a scholarship program. They allow state taxpayers to receive a full or partial tax credit against their tax obligations. These state-based tax credit scholarship programs are an important part of sustaining private school choice. They enable scholarship programs, funded by individuals or corporations, to provide scholarships to the needy or deserving, allowing parents to find the private schools their children need.
Homeschooling is quite simply the practice of educating your children at home. Parents do this for different reasons—dissatisfaction with public or private school academics, dangerous school environments, or the desire to impart religious instruction. Homeschooled students may be taught by parents, guardians, or tutors. Homeschooling has been a traditional method of education since our country’s founding, and it has seen a surge in popularity since the 1980s. Since then, the number of homeschoolers has increased and with it a proliferation of resources and networks.
Conservatives and Christians who value the responsibility to care for their children, a responsibility that carries over to the duty of educating them, should support school choice. They should do so for multiple reasons. First, every child has unique interests and needs—school choice allows parents to meet them. Second, it protects liberty by returning control to state and local officials. Third, parents who are concerned about the morals being taught to, the lack of safety for, or the type of education methods used on their children can find the right school to satisfy those concerns. Fourth, it allows parents to take advantage of technology and the plethora of resources available to them that might not be available in their child’s current school. Finally, it brings market pressures to bear upon bad schools.
For these reasons school choice should be high on the agenda of state legislators, conservatives, and Christians.
Zachary Rogers is a Government Affairs intern at Family Research Council.