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No school choice locks students out of opportunity

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How far would you go to ensure your child accessing their best educational options? Would it include going to jail? The public increasingly supports – sometimes even desperately demands – school choice, and sadly, such pursuits have landed a few determined parents behind bars.

Each year the school choice movement gains new momentum. That said, resistance remains high as the public education industry uses taxpayer resources theoretically allocated “for the children” to maintain influence over intimidable politicians unwilling to take on this behemoth monopoly whose greatest success is continued commandeering of inflated, ever-growing budgets that produce some of the worst outcomes seen in today’s K-12 education system, outcomes destined to plague U.S. society socially and economically for decades to come.

In It’s Time To Let Parents Pick Their Childrens’ Schools, Americans for Prosperity Texas State Policy Director Peggy Venable writes:

President Obama used the State of the Union address last week to praise the schools that “are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy.” He even called for “more demanding parents” who can take a more active role in their children’s education.

The president should instead have focused on the parents who are sacrificing everything to do just that, but are penalized for their efforts to give their children a better life.

Consider the story of Tanya McDowell and her 6-year-old son.

Tanya, a single mother in Connecticut, was homeless and trapped in poverty. Undaunted, she tried to provide a better education — and a better future — for her son by enrolling him in a high-performing public school across town. She hoped this would allow her son to succeed where she had not.

Tanya’s actions landed her in prison. She was charged with intentionally and fraudulently enrolling her son in a public school district where she did not reside. In 2011, she pleaded guilty to enrolling her son in the other school.

Now she’s serving five years in a Connecticut prison.

Venable goes on to describe mothers in Ohio and Georgia jailed for similar offenses. Commonalities amongst the three: the women were all African-American, living in poverty with their kids and “guilty of the same crime: trying to give their children a better life.”

A child’s ZIP code should not be a predictor of future life performance, but with many low-income families having no options but for their government-assigned schools, that ZIP code can portend what’s ahead – for the good and for the bad.

States have made varying progress with limited degrees of school choice offerings. Arizona, per Venable, is “one of only a handful of states to fully allow public school choice” by allowing students to apply for admission at any of the state’s public schools.

The May 2012 Texas Republican Primary brought voters weighing in on a School Choice State Funding ballot measure asking if “the state should fund education by allowing dollars to follow the child instead of the bureaucracy, through a program which allows parents the freedom to choose their child’s school, public or private, while also saving significant taxpayer dollars.”

Republican voters accounted for 71.1 percent of the total primary votes cast and statewide, 84 percent supported the school choice funding measure.

Similarly, an American Federation for Children/Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options survey found 91 percent of Latinos support some form of school choice (vouchers, tax credit scholarships, etc.).

During the 2013 Texas legislative session, the Rev. Kyev Tatum, an ordained Baptist minister and president of the Texas Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wrote of the need to support school choice “by any means necessary”:

The politics of public education in Texas has become the center of attention at the statehouse and I’m concerned that many students, especially poor students of color, are not getting a fair hearing.

System leaders continue fighting to maintain the status quo, while demanding more money without demonstrating any record of academic success from African-American males.

With more than 650,000 in public schools, Texas leads the nation with the largest number of black kids in school. Yet the educational, developmental and disciplinary failure rate of our black children is the highest of any period in human history. Slavery produced better production outcomes than the current public school system. In fact, many of us have compared and described the current public school and prison systems as modern day plantations.

The current economy of education we have built cannot continue at this rate. I’m convinced that our education economy will collapse within less than 20 years unless we take dramatic measures to reform our school system. We cannot afford the school-to-prison pipeline – economically or morally. The numbers do not add up and the cost in human capital is inhumane.

Parents of all colors, cultures and classes are desperately looking for other options to help their children receive a quality education.

And still, despite growing, broad-based support, the education industry continues its fight against competition, against choice.

Venable concludes her piece:

Overall, the U.S. outspends most other countries on public education, averaging $12,000 per student annually. Yet American students continue to slide down the global education rankings in math, reading and science.

America’s educational system needs to be infused with the same freedom and choice that we enjoy in other aspects of our lives. Tanya McDowell knew that education is the key to success — but her son, like too many others, was stuck behind a locked door and unable to get the key.

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