Families should have school choice options

June 23, 2012 11:18AM

Beacon CEO Justin Owen and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice’s Robert Enlow pen an article in today’s Knoxville News Sentinel on why families in our state should have more school choice options. Read the entire article below or at the Knoxville News Sentinel‘s website.   by Robert Enlow & Justin Owen Imagine being told what doctor you had to see based solely on your ZIP code. Or that a politician could decide what type of car you drive. Of course, Tennesseans have the freedom to select their doctors, cars and a bevy of other options. But not in education. Only there are Tennesseans not entrusted to choose. And how unfortunate that is, for a child’s education is one area where a parent’s involvement matters most. Instead, imaginary boundaries dictate the fate of children throughout our state, including in Knoxville. There are solutions that would give Tennessee families the choice they deserve. Opportunity scholarships allow families to take some of the funding already apportioned for their children and use it to send them to the schools of their choice. It could be another public school, a charter school or a private school — it’s up to them to decide what is best. This idea is making waves across the country, with states like Indiana, Louisiana and Arizona recently passing sweeping reforms that empower hundreds of thousands of parents to request scholarships for their kids. Altogether, there are 34 school choice programs in 18 states and Washington, D.C., offering meaningful opportunities to more than 212,000 children. None of these private school choice programs is available to Tennessee parents. In 2011, the state Senate passed a school choice program that would have made some children scholarship eligible, but the House failed to concur. This year, lawmakers are studying the issue and expect to take action in 2013. And if a new voter survey tells us anything, it’s that Tennessee parents are ready to join in on the action. The “Tennessee K-12 & School Choice Survey,” released by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the Beacon Center of Tennessee, not only found that Tennessee voters support educational options, but that some recent reforms have grown in popularity. For instance, take charter schools, which are public schools that are given more flexibility over curriculum, school hours and other aspects of learning in exchange for greater accountability. Sixty-one percent of Tennesseans favor charter schools, while a mere 18 percent oppose giving parents this option. The survey also found a disparity between where Tennessee children currently attend school and where their parents would like to send them. Today, 92 percent of Tennessee students are enrolled in public schools, 7 percent in private schools and not even 1 percent in charter schools. According to the Friedman/Beacon survey, if parents could make that decision, 40 percent would choose public schools, 40 percent private schools, 9 percent charter schools, and 8 percent homeschools. It should come as no surprise then that nearly six out of 10 voters support giving parents more control over their children’s education through opportunity scholarships. This shows that Tennesseans trust one another when it comes to choosing the education that’s best for their own children. It also proves that recent reforms like charter schools are a great solution for many families, but they are not the answer for everyone. Families across Tennessee are signaling that they want better opportunities when it comes to their kids’ educations. If they are allowed to make choices with every other aspect of their lives, they should be allowed to select the education they deem appropriate for their children.