Parents favor school choice, state legislators should listen, says former New Mexico Secretary of Public Education. (Opinion)
Parents want a choice when it comes to their children’s education.
A new report published by The National School Choice Awareness Foundation reveals that 72% of parents considered new schools for their children in 2023 — a massive 35% increase from 2022. Additionally, more than 70% of parents in nearly every state support the implementation of school choice policies.
This momentum has caught the attention of state legislatures across the country.
Led by a growing coalition of parents, a total of 14 states established or expanded school choice programs last year, and six of these states passed universal school choice legislation. In October, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would be awarding $572 million in grants to 16 states for charter school expansion.
While these gains are encouraging, anti-choice activists are not going away quietly. In December, the leader of one of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions went as far as to say that school choice “undermines democracy.”
Meanwhile, other school choice opponents are taking their complaints to the courts. In 2023, lawsuits were filed in South Carolina and Wisconsin seeking to overturn programs that allow parents to spend public dollars on the education program that best meets their needs. Ohio is dealing with a lawsuit signed by dozens of school districts, asking a court to declare the state’s voucher program unconstitutional.
Despite these challenges, the wins in 2023 demonstrate that these kinds of political battles can be won if they remain centered on the wellbeing of our kids and parents’ desire for more choices.
We are already seeing how child-centered advocacy in school choice policies are benefiting families.
In New Mexico, school choice options helped the Mora’s — a middle-class, Albuquerque-based family with three young children — take advantage of their district’s free and public charter school system. Compared with the public school that their kids attended before the pandemic, the family says the charter their kids attend now, “has smaller class sizes, and the teachers there are able to work more closely with her family because of it.”
In Utah, one of the six states that passed universal school choice legislation last year, charter schools have consistently topped U.S. News and World Report’s list of best Utah High Schools. These states are using the full range of choice options to ensure their kids have a bright future.
But we still have a long way to go. According to a recent Thomas B. Fordham Institute study that examined the extent to which school choice competition is occurring in each of the nation’s 125 largest school districts, 80% of students are enrolled in district-run schools with minimal charter, private, and homeschool options.
With this challenge comes new opportunities for expansion. The foundation that I lead, the Daniels Fund, has launched an initiative to grow the number of students learning outside district-run schools in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming by 100,000 seats by 2030.
Understanding that this student-centric, parent-led school choice movement is the best path forward, we’ve partnered with choice organizations in all four states that share this vision and work to ensure that parent voices and the concerns of their kids are at the forefront of the debate.
As state houses open for business this year, it’s critical that legislators listen to families and move our nation closer to universal choice. Together, we can make 2024 a banner year for aiding parents in their fight for choice and reshaping the future of education in America.