In 2011, The Week, a nonprofit, nonpolitical public awareness effort, created an event to be held in January that celebrated diverse educational options — National School Choice Week (NSCW). The annual event attempts to raise public awareness about the range of educational possibilities for students, including traditional public schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.
Over the last five years, National School Choice Week has become the world’s largest celebration of opportunity in education, with more than 16,000 events being held across all 50 states this year. The festivities officially began on Sunday, January 24th and will run through Saturday, January 30th. A useful fact sheet about the history of the holiday and events being held near you can be found on the organization’s website, and all events are independently planned by schools and participating organizations.
Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, says the growing popularity of the event corresponds with an increasing interest in school choice. “From 150 events in 2011 to 16,140 events in 2016, the growth in enthusiasm surrounding National School Choice Week demonstrates that Americans in communities across the country recognize, more than ever before, the importance of ensuring that all children have an opportunity to learn and to pursue their own American dreams,” Campanella said.
Despite increasing awareness of students’ educational options, some states have been slower to adopt school choice policies than others. Charter school laws differ drastically from state to state. There are states that offer students scholarships, funded through tax-deductible donations, to attend private school, while other states provide students vouchers that enable parents to use public education funds to select where their children should go.
Indiana has become a leader in implementing the kinds of scholarships that promote school choice. Linda Thackston, a reporter for Fox 59, writes that five years ago, Indiana enacted the Choice Scholarship Program. Since then, 33,000 families have participated in the scholarship program, and nearly 70% of Indianans support it. “The oldest, and still most common way parents exercise school choice is to move to a district where they want their kids to go to school, says Erin Sweitzer, Communications Director for the Institute for Quality Education, a nonprofit that promotes education policies in Indiana. The scholarship program seeks to remedy that dilemma and expand students’ opportunities.
Meanwhile, as Josh Kaib of Illinois Watchdog reports, Nevada has become the first state to universalize Education Savings Accounts (ESA), which enable in-state public school students to attend a private school of their choice by giving them the money that would have been spent educating them in a public school. A state judge, however, issued an injunction against the program. Nevada’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, who supports the program, is urging the Nevada Supreme Court to determine the program’s constitutionality. Generally speaking, teachers’ unions oppose the expansion of charter and private schools because it could weaken states’ public school systems.
Conservative policymakers and thinkers vigorously support expanding students’ educational options. By doing so, they argue, states can maximize students’ freedom. Neal McCluskey, the director of the right-leaning Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, writes that students must have the “ability to control their own lives,” not the state, in matters of education. McCluskey said:
“… we must allow people and communities marked by hugely diverse religious, philosophical, or moral views, and rich ethnic and cultural identities and backgrounds to teach their children those things.”
According to conservatives, every student has different aspirations and values, thus, the state should facilitate an education system in which they have the right to choose the education that best accommodates their needs.
The goal of National School Choice Week is to inform students about what kind of educational opportunities exist in their regions to assure that they are receiving the kind of education that they want and deserve.