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There has been a lot in the news lately about school choice, but those words, "school choice" can mean many different things. Let’s take a look at some of the different forms school choice can take, and how they have worked for American children.
Charter schools are schools which are privately run utilizing public funding. These schools are run by parents, educators, and charter school companies. The best part of charter schools is quite simple- they work. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education announced the winners of their highest award; the 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award. The Bronx Charter School for Excellence was one of the schools selected for that honor. The school was once in danger of failing by federal standards, and has turned around to be the top charter school in New York City. The fact that 77% of BCSE’s student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch, doesn't hinder their success, instead it proves that a child from any background can get a great education with the right school options.
Another option to provide school choice for children in failing districts is open enrollment. Open enrollment differs from state to state, so it is not consistent across the country, but the common thread is that open enrollment allows parents to choose to send their children to a different public school. Sometimes this means another school within the same district (intradistrict), sometimes parents are allowed to choose a school in another district (interdistrict). Studies have shown that the children of parents who have taken advantage of this option have higher test scores and few disciplinary incidents. In 2011, Oregon legislators approved an open enrollment bill allowing for parents to transfer their student to any school which had openings. Many parents are already taking advantage of this option as large numbers of openings become available.
Finally, let’s look at school vouchers. A school voucher is a certificate issued by the government which parents can then “spend” at a private school or on homeschooling. Vouchers are giving a much-needed boost to private and parochial schools hit by the recession. low-income families who take advantage of vouchers have also reported that “the discipline is much better. There is less fighting. There’s less cheating. There’s less racial conflict. There’s more tolerance for children from other backgrounds.”
All of these methods, and other forms of school choice, foster competition and a free market for education can only be good for students. A local public school district should not have a monopoly on education for those who cannot afford public schooling, and school choice is the best way to level the playing field.