Celebrating School Choice

Celebrating School Choice

2018 | Week of January 15 | #1238

School choice. It used to be there was no choice—at least no real choice for the vast majority of Americans—regarding where their children would attend school. The local public school was pretty much it—unless you were very wealthy and could afford elite private schools.

I distinctly remember my parents several times choosing where we would live based on three primary considerations: proximity to my dad’s work, available good churches and the schools—always the public schools. The school district seemed to be the driver since that was determined by address. Education was important to my parents and they exercised the one choice they reasonably had—where we lived.

Happily, today, especially in a state like Wisconsin, parents have many more reasonable and available choices for the education of their children. Before we get more into the school choice options, I want to be very clear about who is responsible for the education of children. It is not the state. It is not the local school district. It’s not even a private school. It’s not any school. It is, pure and simple, the parents’ responsibility. In fact, I believe it is a God-given responsibility.

Parents may seek out educational partners to assist in the formal education of their children, but if that partner fails—be it a public or private school—the responsibility for the child’s education doesn’t change. It still belongs to the parents.

That said, we believe the more choices parents have to assist in the education of their children, the better. Wisconsin is a national leader in providing educational choices. Within the public school world, parents can choose the school in the district where they live, or they can opt for open enrollment and enroll in a school in a different district, with some exceptions. Still under the public school umbrella are charter schools and virtual charter schools. Moving from public schools to private schools, Wisconsin offers the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Racine Parental Choice Program and the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program—all of which are part of what most people call the “voucher school” option.

This program allows lower-income families to put their children in a private secular or religious school that is participating in the voucher program because the family receives a check from the state to cover the cost of educating that child in the chosen private school—currently on average about $7500—somewhat less for elementary and somewhat more for high school.

Parents who don’t qualify financially for the voucher program can also choose to send their children to a private school, secular or religious. And certainly parents can choose to homeschool their children.  Wisconsin’s very fine home-school/private-school law has been in place and unchanged since 1983. On the home-schooling side in particular this is one of the best laws in the country.

In addition to these options, Wisconsin recently passed a law that gives a tuition tax deduction to parents who are not part of the voucher program but send their children to a private school. Tuition up to $4000 for students in grades kindergarten through 8th grade and up to $10,000 for students in grades 9th through 12th is eligible. We are now in tax season; it’s a good time for parents partnering with private schools to be sure they are taking advantage of this deduction.

Obviously, Wisconsin is doing pretty well in offering parents educational options. However, there’s more that can be done. I’m hoping that one day we will have an educational savings account for each child with the funds available to parents to be used in whatever educational way they choose. In this way, we have true school choice. Fundamentally, school choice should be available to everyone, regardless of income.

Next week is National School Choice Week. Wisconsin and most other states will be participating in this week in which educational choices are celebrated and publicized.  If this special week is new to you, don’t stress. It’s only been around since 2011—which reinforces what I said earlier. Parents having real, viable choices as to the partners for educating their children is pretty new.  Smart parents will explore the options carefully and choose wisely, knowing that whether the partner wildly succeeds or dismally fails, they are still responsible before God for educating their children.

For Wisconsin Family Council, this is Julaine Appling reminding you the Prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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