Educating parents is one of the greatest challenges for proponents of school choice programs, and often that education comes down to simply making parents aware that a choice exists.
The Goldwater Institute recently published a school choice guide for parents in Arizona that may serve as a model for other states. The booklet offers information on what education savings accounts are, who qualifies, and how to pursue each option, writes Mary C. Tillotson of Watchdog.org.
"If we're going to really have parents engaged in knowing what all their options are, someone's got to go and tell them," said Jonathan Butcher, education director at Goldwater Institute.
To help parents make good choices, the Center for Education Reform (CFER) publishes a Parent Power Index on its website, ranking states based on teacher quality, school choice, transparency and other information.
"There's a huge disconnect between policy implementation and practice, especially when it comes to educational choices," CFER President Kara Kerwin said. "There's a lot of barriers. Once a law gets passed, you'll have those that defend the status quo working hard to quell any excitement about it. Sometimes we put these options or these choices in the hands of bureaucrats who don't know how to communicate with parents."
Step Up For Students provides scholarships for Florida students who are homeless, in foster care, or whose families make up to 185% of the federal poverty level, allowing those students to attend private schools if they choose. The group works with community-based agencies, schools, families, employers, and faith-based providers to inform families.
"We want to empower those families, parents and caregivers to find the best educational option for their child because we've found that education is one of the ways to break generational poverty. It's really what we believe in wholeheartedly," said Alissa Ciaramello, vice president for marketing at Step Up for Students.
According to Ciaramello, the organization includes information about school choice in newsletters or on websites for community groups. The organization partnered with other groups that work with foster kids, homeless families or senior citizens who may be raising their grandchildren.
In Arkansas, lawmakers considered tax-credit scholarships and voucher programs at the most recent legislative session, but neither passed.
"People are just learning about school choice in this state, and I think there are a lot of questions," said Virginia Walden-Ford, founder of the Arkansas Parent Network. School choice bills are likely to return when lawmakers come back together, she said.
Walden-Ford held meetings with parents and gave them presentations about school choice. The meetings were well-attended and parents were excited, she said.
Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week, said every community is different and no one method of spreading the word will work everywhere.
National School Choice Week takes place in January — about the time parents are enrolling their children in school for the upcoming year — to celebrate "school choice regardless of choice," according to Campanella. That includes traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, virtual schools and homeschooling.