By Robert Enlow
During a cold week last January, thousands of parents and grandparents throughout the country marched on state capitols and held town hall meetings, expos, movie screenings and even a grandmas' coffeehouse – all in the name of more educational freedom.
They shared one concern: with more than 1 million children dropping out of school annually, public schools were not delivering the quality education every child deserves.
Now, parents and grandparents are lining up again next week to participate in National School Choice Week 2012 and further amplify the call for effective schools that motivate and challenge our students.
While politicians keep talking about pouring more money into schools, citizens are getting more engaged to demand school choice.
They understand that too many children are trapped in inner-city schools where it is dangerous to even walk to school every day and where academic success is a forgotten memory. They believe that too many children – rich or poor, rural, urban or suburban – are not being challenged in the classroom. And they are getting fed up with a system where only the wealthy can afford to move their children to a more effective school.
What they want is simple: a system that doesn't assign children to schools based on address but instead allows parents to select a school based on a child's need. Parents want to be able to choose a school that may offer a curriculum that works best for their child, or that is safer or that teaches values similar to what is taught at home.
While there has been explosion of school choice programs in the past year, parents still have too little choice. Consider:
Charter schools. There are just 2 million pupils who have won slots to these highly-coveted schools, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Charter schools are public schools but are free of many regulations found in traditional government schools.
Vouchers. About 88,000 students utilize voucher scholarships through one of the nation's 17 voucher programs to attend non-public schools, including programs for special needs children and students in urban areas. Eleven of the 17 voucher programs are offered to all families with no income requirement, making it possible for the most to have educational freedom.
Tax Credit Scholarships. An estimated 117,000 students receive scholarships to attend private schools through tax credit programs that allow individuals and/or corporations to donate to scholarship-granting organizations.
Individual Tax Credits. In six states, about 600,000 families can now deduct educational expenses on their income taxes in order to obtain more school choice.
This year, with National School Choice Week 2012, people will march and rally, attend town halls and forums, and host movie screenings and open houses at schools. They will assemble all across the country because they understand deeply that of the 49 million public school students in the nation today, only a tiny percentage can take advantage of educational options. Less than 3 million kids exercise educational freedom, and more want that option.
That's why Nobel laureate Milton Friedman believed so passionately in school choice. He knew that when parents were armed with options, all schools would improve.
Friedman would be proud to know what has been accomplished to give parents more choice. But when 49 million students still have no real freedom at all, Friedman would say we still have a long way to go, because if our schools fail, we all fail.
Enlow is the President and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.