Finding effective solutions to our nation’s education problems is one of the most pressing issues facing America today. Many children lack quality educational options and are too often relegated to attending low-performing schools. A lack of educational choice is a reality for thousands of low- and middle-income children across the country and is a major factor in our nation’s mediocre academic achievement levels. But thankfully, 2011 has marked a turning-point for school choice, with a growing number of states implementing options such as vouchers, tuition tax credit programs, online learning and other innovative school choice options – that offer a better alternative for America’s children.

School choice, which saves taxpayers money and simultaneously offers children a higher quality education, is sweeping the nation. And it’s an idea whose time has come. Instead of funding school buildings, the philosophy behind school choice says we should fund students instead and allow education dollars to follow a child to the school of his or her choice.

In places like Washington, D.C., where the now-revived D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is providing low-income children with vouchers to attend a private school of their choice, dramatic results have been achieved. These children, who once attended the poorest-performing public schools in the country, are thriving in schools chosen by their parents – not assigned based on their zip code. Academic achievement has risen, and impressively, students who received a voucher and used it to attend private schools of their choice had a 91 percent graduation rate.

The latest state to consider providing more school choice options for families is Pennsylvania, where state senator Lloyd K. Smucker (R) is sponsoring a bill to increase the Educational Improvement Tax Credit scholarship program to $100 million. Smucker aims to offer more low-income students in the state a chance at private schooling.

The Lancaster Online reports:

Competition drives up quality service, and education shouldn’t be exempt,” [Smucker] said.

In response to those who believe school vouchers will harm public education funding, Smucker said public schools still will keep their local and federal reimbursements. Only the state portion for qualified children would go to parents.

Because the public school would no longer have to educate that child, its average revenue per student actually goes up, Smucker said.

School choice proposals are gaining bipartisan support across the country. More than two dozen states considered school choice legislation this year with 16 special needs school choice bills considered this legislative cycle alone.

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) kicked things off this year when he was elected Speaker of the House. In one of his first acts of the 112th Congress, he chose to restore and expand the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program – which was placed on life support by the last Congress. Now, low-income children in the District (one of the worst-ranked public school systems in America), have a chance at a quality education. From there, things took off.

Arizona enacted a groundbreaking Education Savings Account program providing parents with special-needs children options for private schooling. Parents in Arizona can now receive 85 percent of the state per-pupil funding in an ESA and can use that money to pay for private school tuition.

Wisconsin successfully broke the union stranglehold on public education and expanded the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which provides vouchers to low-income children in the city to attend a private school of their choice.  Indiana passed what will be the most expansive school voucher program in the country, which will provide, when it is fully enacted, an estimated  600,000 children the opportunity to attend private school that better meets their needs. And Oklahoma has followed suit, enacting a tuition tax credit program for businesses that choose to contribute to scholarship-granting organizations, which in turn provide vouchers to low-income children.

As Heritage education policy analyst Lindsey Burke writes:

Indeed, this is the new normal: we are now taken aback by the states that haven’t implemented some sort of school choice option for families, whether its tuition tax credits, vouchers or online learning.

And with every state vying to outpace the next in providing educational opportunities for children, it’s hard to keep up with the proliferation of opportunities.

And yet, education special interest groups – teachers’ unions – are dead set against such options for children and the state as a whole. They consistently lobby to stop the school choice movement in its tracks, because they know it poses a threat to their power. But the union stranglehold over education is beginning to crumble – thanks to efforts in Wisconsin and elsewhere – and policies that are in the best interests of children – not adults – are being pursued.

Every student in America deserves a chance at a first rate education. State leaders across the country should look to the states who have already moved to empower parents with educational options. Those who opt out of the school choice revolution will do a disservice to their students and be left lagging desperately behind.

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