As the 2014-2015 school year closes, parents who seek a more promising educational opportunity for their children next year will have more options than ever thanks to an unprecedented level of action across the country to embrace school choice.
From Nevada, where lawmakers enacted Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for all children in public schools, to states enacting ESAs, school vouchers, or tax-credit scholarships for children with special needs or living in low-income families, there will be more educational opportunity in grades K-12 next year than at any time in history.
At least 28 states and Washington, D.C. will have various private school choice options as state leaders respond to growing demand for educational opportunities besides schools assigned to children based on where they live. So far this year, eight states have adopted vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, ESAs, or expanded existing programs, with other states still considering six new programs and expansions.
Nevada is raising the bar by enacting ESAs, a new school choice opportunity, for their 453,000 public school students. Using ESAs, families receive education dollars through an authorized savings account and may use funds for various educational expenses, including tuition. In other states, traditional vouchers and tax-credit scholarships continue to enjoy strong support.
A 2014 poll by Braun Research and the Friedman Foundation found that by a nearly 2-1 margin Americans support school vouchers and that affirmation continues to grow. Support transcends race, political party, and geography, with strongest support among parents of children attending public school, low-income workers and minorities.
The newest states to adopt school choice:
- Arkansas. Adopted a voucher for children with special needs. Children who have attended a public school for one year and have an Individual Education Plan (IEP), and children of active duty U.S. Armed Services members, are eligible.
- Montana. Created a tax-credit scholarship program. A nonprofit scholarship granting organization may receive no more than $3 million in small donations from individuals and corporations to fund scholarships for children to attend private schools.
- Nevada. Created the first ESA with eligibility for all public school students. Either 100 percent or 90 percent of average state funding allocated for a child’s public education may be used for learning options of the parent’s choosing. Unused funds may be saved for future years. Nevada also enacted a tax-credit scholarship program for children from low income families.
- Tennessee. Authorized an ESA program for children with certain disabilities, allowing families to utilize savings account funds for private school tuition, tutoring, therapy, and computer hardware necessary to meet the child’s needs, among other expenses.
Sixty years ago, Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman wrote his famous essay, The Role of Government in Education, promoting the idea that parents should be free to choose the best educational option for their child, whether public, private, homeschool, or any option useful to students that might be adopted in the future. This was the beginning of the modern school choice movement. Friedman’s idea to empower parents was considered radical at the time; there was little movement toward school choice for many years.
Now, a new generation of state leaders have, in the past few years, offered greater school choice opportunities to more families than in the previous half century.
During the 2014-15 school, more than 377,000 pupils utilized vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and ESAs. With recent action in the states, that number will grow exponentially. In Nevada alone, over 453,000 students will be eligible to use an ESA in 2016.
Despite this success, millions of children who don’t meet restrictive eligibility rules will still have no choice. Friedman believed all children should have broad access to learning opportunities right for them and reasoned that improvement in education would be unlikely until we allowed parents the freedom to decide what’s best for their own children.
We must demand educational freedom. Our future success as a free nation rests on our shoulders, as citizens, to be educated well enough to understand our free markets, defend our individual liberty, and value and respect each other as people united in freedom. With Nevada pushing the school choice tipping point, now is the time to eliminate all barriers in all states that block any child from the right to choose a decent education, to be truly free.
Hiner is vice president of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the legacy foundation of Nobel economist Milton Friedman and his wife Rose.