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Educational choice programs provide families more flexibility, equity and choice

All children deserve a chance at a great education, no matter where they live or how wealthy their parents are. Educational choice means all parents, regardless of means, enjoy the freedom to choose where and how their children are educated. COURTESY PHOTO - Jay Jackson, Woodburn Independent - Opinion

Educational choice programs give parents more control over their children's education, are a powerful catalyst for reform, and empower parents to get the education that is right for their children. They provide choice from a variety of educational options. Such programs include:

Publicly funded scholarships (vouchers) to parents, for selection of the educational program of their choice;

Scholarships, funded by donations for which donors may claim a tax credit;

Tax deductions/credits for education-related expenses paid directly by parents; and

Education savings account (ESA) programs for education-related expenses, allowing parents to customize their children's education.

Charter schools, public schools subject to more regulations than private schools, may operate free from restrictions of bureaucracies and teachers' unions, and innovate how they deliver education.

With educational choice programs, funds follow students to the parents' choice. A school no longer receives funds to educate a child not attending that school. These programs do not have negative fiscal impact on public schools or taxpayers, and cost a fraction of what a traditional public school receives to educate a student, generating taxpayer savings. Spending per student has increased, while academic performance has not improved, and the achievement gap between rich and poor has remained the same. Adding more money to the system would not improve current schools.

Educational choice programs improve educational outcomes for students, and do not harm student performance. These programs improve academic, educational, and life outcomes for those participating. Choice programs help students attain higher levels of educational attainment, which are associated with a longer, healthier life; higher lifetime earnings; and lower probabilities of divorce, welfare dependency, and incarceration. Students also benefit in other ways, including lower suicide rates, improved mental health, and decline in paternity suits and criminal activities, particularly for males and low-achieving students. These programs help students become happy and productive members of society.

Educational choice programs improve school performance, and benefit families leaving the public school system and those staying in it. Schools must pay more attention to students eligible for choice programs. Benefits include fewer absences and suspensions, and higher test scores. Choice programs improve the worst performing public schools, and schools facing the greatest competition make the greatest academic gains. Students from the poorest families are the most positively affected.

Educational choice programs aid disadvantaged students, especially those with special needs or from low-income backgrounds. They provide opportunities for students from all income classes and backgrounds. Choice programs are often designed with special needs and low-income students in mind.

Educational choice programs promote racial integration. Participants are more likely to be low-income, lower-achieving, or African American, and much less likely to be white. The traditional public school system assigns students to schools based on their ZIP code. These assignments were redlined into existence by systemic housing discrimination, and are often racially homogeneous. Students in minority neighborhoods go to school with minority classmates, and students in white neighborhoods go to school with white classmates. Public schools remain segregated by race and class.

Traditional public schools lack sufficient accountability to parents because children must attend their assigned school regardless of the quality of the education students receive. Private schools, and charter schools, are directly accountable to parents and must deliver a satisfactory educational experience or lose students. Public schools operate as monopolies and lack sufficient systematic incentives to provide a high-quality education to the students they serve, because many lack the financial means to move to better public schools or pay private school tuition. Educational choice programs empower parents to leave any school that is not meeting their child's needs; a direct and effective accountability mechanism. With choice programs, parents choose the educational environment that best suits their child, which holds both private and public schools directly accountable to parents.

Religious educational choice programs are constitutional if neutral regarding religion—neither favoring nor discriminating against religious options, and parents free to decide whether to participate and select among the providers.

Tax credits for donations to fund student scholarship awards are funded with private, not public dollars. The government does not own, control, or possess the donated money. Government already gives tax benefits for private donations for charitable donations.

Students attending religious schools receive better, not less or worse, science education than their public school counterparts. Private schools outperform public schools in English, reading, and math, as well as science.

Students with special needs are not forced to give up their rights under federal law by participating in choice programs; participation is voluntary. Parents who are dissatisfied may remove their child from the school.

Educational choice programs do not "fund discrimination". Choice programs are purely voluntary and fund parents and students, not schools. Parents have a fundamental constitutional right to direct the education and upbringing of children under their care, including the ability to choose the educational environment that best suits the child's learning needs. Their choice to use the benefits provided by an educational choice program, to the extent permissible under state and federal civil rights laws, is their choice to make. Choice programs do not exempt schools from complying with state and federal antidiscrimination law. Because discrimination in education is based on ZIP code and wealth, children from poor and middle-income families may be trapped in failing schools with no means of escaping to better-performing schools.

Educational choice can end the unconstitutional restriction of education, and defuse many of the most personal conflicts in public schools. Parents have the right, and should have the opportunity, to choose the educational approach that best serves their children, regardless of where they live or their socio-economic status.  Parents want an educational choice that fits their child's needs and is a place where the child can thrive. Freedom, equality, and equity require educational choice.

Jay R. Jackson is the president, League of Oregon Charter Schools. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 541-405-4315.

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