School Choice Week 2016

January 29, 2016

This week, educators, students, and parents celebrate School Choice Week.

As a father of public school-educated children and a former school board president, I have a vested interest in public education just like all parents across Arkansas. I ran for the Fountain Lake School Board in 2006 to ensure my children had an education that gave them the best opportunity at a bright future.

Since that first foray in public service 10 years ago, I have seen the effects of the undue influence the federal government has on education policy and the direct instruction of our children. It is part of the reason I am serving in Congress.

School choice reduces the influence federal bureaucrats have on the instruction of my children and yours and allows teachers to educate our children with less intrusion in the classroom.

Currently all parents in Arkansas have the opportunity to homeschool their children, while some school districts such as Fort Smith allow parents to choose which school their child attends regardless of school boundaries.

These options are necessary and essential to ensuring children have the best chance at success, but it is not enough. Parents should have ample opportunities to make the best decisions for their children’s education. Options include not only traditional public schools and homeschooling, but also public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, and the option of private education.

With more than 60 percent of parents expressing a desire for greater educational options for their children, it is imperative that we create a climate of school choice in this country.

Forty-one states currently offer the option of online academies, which serve 320,000 full-time students. Not only do students take classes full-time through the online academies, but an additional 2.3 million traditional, charter, and private school students take online courses.

One way Congress has improved access to school choice was the passage of the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act of 2015 (H.R. 10). The legislation renewed previously-passed legislation that gives low income students in our nation’s capital in underperforming public schools the opportunity to attend a private school.

For anyone who doubts the benefit of school choice, there are countless stories of success in both Washington’s public school system and in other locations. According to figures provided by the Office of the Speaker of the House, “Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) students have had consistently high graduation rates, including 90 percent for last year’s [2014] 12th grade students. In addition, for the last school year [2013-2014], 88 percent of OSP students went on to enroll in a two or four-year college/university, and 85 percent of OSP parents were happy with their children’s school.  Of this year’s OSP students, 87.4 percent would otherwise be enrolled at a school that the government has identified as in need of improvement.”[i]

A study by Dr. John Robert Warren of the University of Minnesota showed higher graduation rates for school choice students in Milwaukee Public Schools, with a school choice graduation rate of 82 percent in the 2008-2009 school year compared to 70 percent graduation rate for Milwaukee’s traditional public school students the same year.[ii]

With the American economy continuing to evolve and expand with trading partners across the globe, it is essential that parents and students have school choice to ensure success in an increasingly competitive world. It will take a combination of increased local control and passing legislation that promotes freedom of choice. American children deserve better educational opportunities and the future of our nation depends on it.