January 23-29 marks National School Choice week, “the world’s largest celebration of opportunity in education,” according to National School Choice Week (NSCW). This week is an opportunity to highlight the importance of educational freedom and bring awareness to the educational options that families have in our state.
In 2016, we passed the Partners in Education Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provides funding for low-income families to send their children to non-government schools. Our Senate Education Committee increased funding for this program to three and a half million dollars. In addition, South Dakota has few restrictions when it comes to homeschooling. With no required teacher qualifications or assessments, parents are free to provide their children’s formal education at home.
While this is an excellent start, there is still more that can be done to uphold parents’ rights and help students thrive.
Arizona recently became the first state to enact universal choice, and South Dakota families would benefit from even more educational freedom if our legislature passed a similar initiative.
“By investing in education reform, lawmakers can empower families to freely pursue the best education available for their children, no matter their ZIP code, income level or socioeconomic status. South Dakota legislators can expand school choice by restructuring the flow of school funding to follow each student instead of tying it to individual schools or school districts,” writes State Director for Americans for Prosperity – South Dakota Keith Moore.
When funds follow students instead of school districts, low-income families who would otherwise be stuck in underserved school districts with fewer resources are able to seek higher quality education. Further, expanding school choice and investing in a variety of schooling options, such as charter, virtual, private and homeschool, allows students to find an environment that best meets their needs.
School choice is a parent’s right, and because parents know their children best, they are the most likely to choose a schooling option that will help their children thrive.
“Our nation is facing a learning loss crisis, and policymakers must respond by offering educational options so that parents and students are not trapped in the residentially-assigned public schools that are failing them…Too many schools across the country have chosen to prioritize adults rather than children and radical ideology rather than academic instruction. State leaders must support policies that free parents and students to choose from a wide variety of educational options. As we celebrate National School Choice week, our country must prioritize students over systems and parental choice over union control,” said Ginny Gentles, director of the Education Freedom Center at the Independent Women’s Forum.
Gentles is absolutely right. Let’s take advantage of National School Choice week by highlighting the options that parents have for their children’s education in South Dakota while calling on our leaders to enact further school choice efforts.