January 26 to February 1 is National School Choice Week. According to the NSCW web site this annual week of celebration is a “nonpartisan, nonpolitical public awareness effort.” The purpose of NSCW is to “shine a positive spotlight on the need for effective education options for all children.” The individuals and groups who participate in National School Choice “believe that parents should be empowered to choose the educational environments for their children.”
As an administrator of a non-public school and a parent who has never enrolled my own children in public school I certainly agree that school choice is important. It is not as if NSCW is fighting for something that does not exist–school choice exists in the United States now and has for quite some time. Of course the choice to which I am referring has always come with a cost–anyone who wanted to do so and could afford to do so could send their children to any school they wanted (assuming the student was accepted at the school). One of the positions of National School Choice is that all possible options need to be available to everyone, including public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online schooling options and state programs allowing for private school choice–programs like scholarships, tax credits or deductions or vouchers that parents can use to pay for their child’s education at a private school. The idea of vouchers is that parents have the say in how part of the tax dollars set aside for their children gets used–even if that means the funds are used at a private school.
As a school choice proponent and private school administrator I have always been interested in the voucher idea. In the state where I live–South Dakota–spending per pupil in FY 2011 was $8,805, with perhaps 40% of that coming from the state. Across the United States, total spending per pupil in FY 2011 was $10,559.70, which includes federal, state and local spending. Evidence indicates that when voucher systems are in place many parents utilize them. They do not exist in my state, and I am not aware of any significant movement toward their adoption here, but it is a plan that truly gives parents a say in how the tax revenue earmarked for their childrens’ education is used.
Still and all, with or without vouchers more and more parents are choosing to exercise their right of school choice. According to the National Center for Education Statistics 5.2 million students were expected to attend private schools in 2013. That is about one-tenth of the number of students enrolled in public schools. According to figures released last August there are 1.77 million homeschooled students in the United States–about 3.4% of the school-age population. That, by the way, was an increase of 300,000 students over the last time the survey was completed in 2007. So there are a significant number of parents deciding that the best educational option for their child(ren) is not public school.
Now, as I have indicated here before, I am a product of public school. I never took a class anywhere other than a public school from the time I started kindergarten to the time I graduated from high school. I was–and still am–satisfied with the academic instruction I received. As I have also indicated here before, however, I have since come to realize that schooling is about far more than the acquisition of knowledge. Education involves worldview–the lens through which that knowledge is presented. That is the primary reason why my children are in a Christian school and why I serve at a Christian school.
I am not going to use the fact that this is National School Choice Week to reiterate the arguments I have made here before about the importance of Christian education; you can read previous posts if you want to do so. Rather, I am going to use this opportunity to remind parents that there truly is a choice when it comes to the education of your child. Do not just send them to public school because that is where you went or because that is what everyone else does or because it is convenient or it is “free.” Take the time to evaluate what you want your children to learn, from perspective you want them to learn it and in what environment you want them to learn. If, after giving that serious consideration, you determine that the local public school is probably not the place where you want that to take place, take advantage of the freedom you have to exercise school choice. Ultimately the education of your child(ren) is your responsibility; take it seriously.