More school choice means diverse options for students
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Across the nation, millions of children are going back to school and getting ready for the next academic year. A worthy K-12 education is critically important and sets the foundation for students’ future success. As co-chairmen of the Congressional Caucus on Education Innovation and Opportunity, we’ve seen firsthand the value of an education that fits the individual needs of each and every student. With the COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupting the operation of traditional schools in the United States and across the world, it has never been more important to equip all students with the individualized tools they need to succeed.

Fortunately, in many areas across the country, school choice models have evolved and now include traditional public, charter, private, online and home school options. We encourage all families to explore the options available to them if they feel their child’s individual learning needs are not being met. Each child is unique, and their educational paths should be as well.

Critics often paint the school choice movement as a battle between public and private schools, but this is a false dichotomy. School choice means schools should meet the needs of each student — not the other way around. Students and parents desperately need educational models and services that fit their learning style and life. No matter what type of school that ends up being, each child deserves the best possible education for them, regardless of their ZIP code.

We’ve seen time and time again that blanket mandates from Washington do not work, and we need to build a system that gives all students the resources they need to be successful after high school graduation, whatever that might look like for them. This means increasing exposure to diverse options and experiential learning at a younger age by providing students with hands-on opportunities — such as STEM courses, career and technical education and more. In order to accomplish this goal, we all need to work together as parents, students, educators and policymakers. The best systems are driven from the local level by those who know the students best — while policymakers in Washington provide communities with the freedom to explore all of these diverse opportunities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted just how important school choice is — as all K-12 schools in the U.S. have been affected in some way by this public health emergency. In the spring, the virus led schools across the country to adopt distance learning models, and many of these schools are continuing some form of a modified learning structure this fall. We’ve heard from numerous parents that these new models are not working for their children’s learning styles or are incompatible with their families’ lives — and they’re looking for more options. Parents, not Washington bureaucrats, know what’s best for their children. Now is the time to allow families the freedom to direct their children’s educations.

It has long been a priority of ours to ensure families are empowered to make the best educational decisions to set their children up for success. While the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated problems that arise when families feel trapped into certain education models for their children, this is a long-standing issue. It is time for policymakers in Washington and across state governments to give students and families the freedom to direct their futures, allowing innovative, individualized instruction models to develop. Every student in America deserves to be set up for their own success, and choice will give every child the best chance.

We fully understand the importance of empowering parents and teachers to make a difference in students’ lives. As supporters of school choice legislation, we are firm believers that a child’s ZIP code should not dictate his or her access to quality education nor define the child’s future. This summer, the School Choice Now Act was introduced in the United States Senate, which helps ensure all students can return to their pre-pandemic educational institutions. As we respond to and navigate this unprecedented pandemic, students must remain our core focus. While distance learning has proven effective in some places, there have emerged concerning gaps in quality and access to learning. As some schools and districts struggle more than others to address the challenges at hand and deliver student-oriented solutions, working families deserve options. We must ensure that all children have access to the necessary resources and opportunities — especially education — to live a successful life.

Education is the key that unlocks the American dream for so many people and every child deserves to learn in an environment that is just right for them. It is the parents, teachers and administrators in our communities, not bureaucrats in board rooms, who know what’s best for our kids. A one-size-fits-all approach from Washington is not the right solution for helping kids who face challenges, and it is not the best way to prepare them for success after finishing school. When parents have a choice, our kids have a chance. And when our kids have a chance, America prospers.

We believe, without question, that each and every child has within them a reservoir of potential. We should make sure educational services that release that potential are available to all young people throughout this country.

 

Mitchell represents Michigan’s 10th District and Scott is the junior senator from South Carolina. They serve as co-chairmen of the Congressional Caucus on Education Innovation and Opportunity.