School Choice Matters for Pennsylvania's Families
National School Choice Week celebrates educational options.
When it comes to K-12 education, America's parents want more choices.
In fact, almost two-thirds of parents – 64 percent – say they wish they had more options for their children's education.
In a society where Americans choose practically everything, from the brands of coffee they drink in the morning to the types of cars they drive, it is understandable that parents are demanding more of a say in where they send their children to school.
Parents understand that with greater options come better results for their children. Every child is unique, with distinctive interests and learning styles. Moms and dads know that a school that works for one student might not be a good fit for another.
In many states, Pennsylvania included, lawmakers have taken action to provide a more diverse variety of school choices for families.
From Jan. 24-30, millions of Americans will raise awareness about the importance of school choice at an unprecedented 16,140 events – including 742 events in Pennsylvania. These events are planned to coincide with National School Choice Week, the largest celebration of opportunity in education in U.S. history.
For families in the Keystone State, National School Choice Week provides a good opportunity to review the six different types of education options available to their children.
Pennsylvanians can choose traditional public schools for their kids; and the state allows parents, with some limitations, the ability to choose traditional public schools outside of their existing school zones. This process is called open enrollment, or public school choice.
The Keystone State also allows for the creation of public charter schools, which are tuition-free public schools that are given the freedom to be more innovative. Magnet schools, which focus on themes such as math, science, technology, and the performing arts, also exist.
In addition, Pennsylvania is one of 41 states with a tuition-free online academy, allowing students to go to school entirely online.
Of course, parents in Pennsylvania can also send their children to private schools, and the state offers assistance, either in the form of scholarships or tax deductions, to qualifying families.
Finally, parents have the freedom to educate their children in the home – and more parents are homeschooling their children than ever before.
Parents who are not happy with their children's current schools, or would like to explore their options, should use January to consider the alternatives available to them. Families can use National School Choice Week as an opportunity to visit schools, ask lots of questions of teachers and administrators, and talk with other parents to find a school that may be a better fit.
Starting the school search process in January, rather than waiting until summer break, means that parents have more options available to them.
Why is this process important?
In addition to ensuring greater peace of mind, research has demonstrated that when parents actively choose the schools their children attend, or choose to educate their children in the home, high school graduation rates increase dramatically.
A student with a high school diploma will, over the course of his or her life, earn more than a quarter million dollars more than a student who has dropped out. High school graduates are far less likely to be incarcerated, and are six times more likely to participate in community and civic affairs, than individuals without high school diplomas.
Most importantly, though: School choice matters because every child in America has potential. Today's students are tomorrow's leaders, and together, we must do everything possible to prepare them for success.
Andrew R. Campanella is president of National School Choice Week, the nation's largest annual celebration of opportunity in education. A recognized expert on education reform, Andrew lives in Blue Mountain Beach, Fla.