What singular cause could bring together the likes of Democratic campaign strategist James Carville, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal (LA), actor Sacha Baron Cohen, and 2,000 families, all under one roof? The answer: school choice — empowering parents with the ability to save their children from failing schools, thereby giving them a shot at a brighter future.
Those big names came together to kick off National School Choice Week in New Orleans over the weekend, a celebration that is being echoed in some 400 events across the country in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, with half the nation’s governors declaring “School Choice Week” in their states. Actor, comedian, and education advocate Bill Cosby offered his support for school choice, as well:
I strongly support National School Choice Week because all children in America should be able to access the best schools possible. We have a moral and societal obligation to give our children the opportunity to succeed in school, at work, and in life. We cannot meet that obligation unless parents are empowered to select the best schools of their children. I encourage everyone who wants to see a transformation of American education to get involved in National School Choice Week.
The groundswell of support comes after a year of significant strides in the school choice movement. A total of 12 states and the District of Columbia either enacted or expanded school choice options in 2011. Heritage education expert Lindsey Burke explains that last year, “more families than ever before gained access to school choice options, freeing them from assignment-by-zip code policies that often relegate families to the public school closest to their home, regardless of whether it meet their child’s needs.” As a result, more families have access to school choice options — including vouchers, tax credits, homeschooling, online learning, and even education savings accounts.
That expansion of school choice came after what appeared to be ominous news for some of America’s schoolchildren in 2009 and 2010. In Washington, D.C., home to some of the country’s most dangerous and under-performing schools, families of low-income children received vouchers through the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, giving them a chance to choose a brighter educational future. That light of hope, though, was about to be extinguished when Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) inserted a provision in a 2009 spending bill that would have ended the program. That changed, though, when the Tea Party revolution came to Congress, bringing with it a new movement toward school choice. In early 2011, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) successfully fought for the reauthorization of the D.C. scholarship program, ensuring that those families continued to have a choice in education.
The opportunities those children enjoy provide an example for the rest of the country. Heritage president Ed Feulner explains why school choice — and improving education in America — is such a central issue for our country’s future:
There are many good public schools across this country with dedicated teachers who deserve praise. Unfortunately, there also are many bad schools, especially in urban areas. When you consider the damage those institutions inflict, making it nearly impossible for students to learn and fulfill their potential, you realize it’s nothing short of a national crime. That’s why it’s so heartening to see the school-choice movement gaining ground.
This year, leaders at the state level should hear the cries of the families they represent and continue moving toward more school choice in 2012 by expanding options such as school vouchers, tax credits, education savings accounts, and online learning. It’s not a conservative issue or a liberal issue, Republican or Democrat. Ensuring that our children have the best education possible is an American issue, and it’s one that the country should get behind.