Every parent has a God-given right to direct their children’s education. Yet, many families are unable to fully exercise that right because their financial circumstances limit their ability to make a choice in where to send their children to school. This is the case even when they know that their children would benefit from a different learning environment.
In the last two decades, educational choice policies have been adopted in over 30 states, including every state surrounding Kentucky. Contrary to the unsupported claims of opponents, the adoption of educational choice program has more often than not coincided with increased funding for public schools and improvements in academic outcomes for public school students.
Just as important, educational choice students are seeing improved long-term outcomes. A study from the Urban Institute found that low income students in Florida who participated in the school choice program were more likely to graduate high school and attend a four-year college.
It is common sense. Empowering parents, the people most likely to put their children’s interest first, has led to more students succeeding in the classroom.
Kentucky lawmakers have already demonstrated their dedication to supporting public schools and providing families with more options. At the same time that the Kentucky General Assembly passed educational choice measures like the Education Opportunity Account Act in 2021, the legislature also increased public education spending by hundreds of millions of dollars (or billions if you also count contributions to public pensions). According to the Kentucky Department of Education, Kentucky is now spending $15,067 per-student. In addition to state expenditures, Kentucky public schools have also received billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
Nevertheless, some opponents balked at efforts to support educational choice and public schools. Instead of celebrating victories for all students, educational choice opponents took what will amount to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars out of the public school system to hire attorneys in multiple lawsuits with the goal of blocking families from having a choice in where to send their children to school. Unfortunately, the Kentucky Supreme Court has sided with the opponents of educational choice instead of families wanting more options.
That has left supporters with one option; propose a constitutional amendment on educational choice and let the voters decide.
The coalition supporting educational choice is broad and diverse. The board of EdChoice Kentucky, a leading group supporting educational choice policy, includes representatives from various faith-based traditions and representatives from secular non-public schools. Although members come from different backgrounds and traditions, they are united in the desire to give every child the opportunity to reach their full potential in a school that works for them.
Opponents often claim that this movement is being driven by extremists who want to destroy public education. This could not be further from the truth.
Take Akia McNeary for example. Three years ago, Ms. McNeary got involved in the educational choice movement because one of her children was struggling in his assigned public school and she was not satisfied with the response from the school administration. Fortunately, she was able to make a choice to send her son to a non-public school where he found success. Yet, doing so has created an extreme financial hardship for her family.
Despite having the schedule of a working parent, Ms. McNeary has spent countless hours advocating for educational choice over the years. She defies the caricatures often thrown around by educational choice opponents. Ms. McNeary has three school age children and will be the first to tell you that one of her older sons has thrived in public schools. But each of her children have different learning needs and that is why she wants more options.
When Kentuckians take up and pass a constitutional amendment on educational choice in 2024, it is going to be because parents like Ms. McNeary want more of a say when it comes to their children’s education.