Appetite for schooling options growing
July 2, 2012 · 5:10 PM
By Jami Lund
As we move into the 21st century, the growth of individualized services is one very clear trend. Most aspects of our lives are improved with customization to meet our needs—our phones, our banking, our insurance, our software, and even our employment arrangements are much more adaptable. Education services, however, have been surprisingly resistant to change.
Among the education policies debated this legislative session was whether Washington should become the 43rd state to adopt a charter school law. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools freed from many state and local regulations in exchange for stronger accountability, as outlined in their “charter.” Should a charter school fail to meet that contract, it is shut down.
Such an agreement gives teachers and principals the power to be more flexible and innovative in how they educate students and serve the unique needs of their community. Charter schools are public schools for the 21st century.
Public opinion research released by the Friedman Foundation and the Freedom Foundation found that 60 percent of Washington voters favor charter schools and only 23 percent oppose.
In addition, other methods of expanding the options for families and students are also popular. “Tax credit scholarships” are supported by 59 percent. “Education savings accounts” are favored by 57 percent, and even school vouchers have 55 percent support.
As more states adopt school choice policies—charter schools, online learning, private school scholarships, and so on—it is clear that greater choice and more high-quality educational options are the best ways to ensure each child’s unique needs are met. Washington residents have yet to experience this benefit, but if it were available, they would take advantage of it.
Today, 93 percent of Washington students attend traditional public schools. However, according to the survey of state voters, if given the opportunity to select any type of school for their children, only 40 percent would choose regular public schools. Among the other options, one percent would choose virtual schools, seven percent would prefer to home school, 14 percent would opt for charter schools, and 35 percent would pick private school settings. Washington’s current policies do not sync up with parents’ schooling preferences.
The research, as well as numerous levy votes statewide, demonstrates that citizens appreciate the important work of public schools. The desire to see schools deregulated is simply an appetite for customized and individualized service which exists in so many other aspects of life. Citizens believe in their local schools and recognize the challenges faced by education professionals, but more than half in the survey believed that the education system is “on the wrong track.”
Olympia lawmakers should lift regulations and expand options for students, families and communities. Local elected School Directors, who have surprisingly great authority, should also innovate in ways that expand options for the families they serve.
Jami Lund is the education reform fellow for the Freedom Foundation, a free market think tank in Olympia.