It’s back to school time. And this year, students across the nation have more educational opportunity than in any previous year. 2011 has been named “The Year of School Choice,” and for good reason. Forty-two states introduced over 150 pieces of school choice legislation, and 12 states and the District of Columbia enacted plans to broaden school choice.

As of this year, 18 states plus D.C. offer some form of private school choice: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C. These school choice programs come in the form of scholarships, tuition tax credits, or education savings accounts. Indiana’s newly-enacted private school choice plan is on target to become the largest private school choice program in the nation, estimated to provide choice for approximately 60 percent of the state’s students within three years. Ohio is now home to the greatest number of private school choice programs, with four in total, and North Carolina enacted its first private school choice plan, which will benefit special-needs students.

Another form of school choice that is gaining momentum every year is virtual schooling. Twenty-seven states operate state-led online schools, and 48 states plus D.C. provide some type of opportunity for online education. An estimated 1.5 million students are benefiting from these programs, which allow students flexibility in when and where they study and provide them the opportunity to learn at their own pace. For students in areas with limited resources, online learning can mean access to courses and teachers that might not otherwise be available.

Charter schools are continuing to be a popular option for students as well. Forty states and Washington, D.C. have charter school laws, and charter schools now make up 5.4 percent of all public schools. Furthermore, the demand for charters is growing. Over 65 percent of schools report waiting lists (compared to 58 percent in 2008).

Public school choice is also available in most states, either allowing students to transfer within districts, between districts or both. Currently, 46 states offer at least one of these options for public school choice.

Additionally, homeschooling–legal in every state–is continuing to flourish. The latest numbers (from 2007) indicate that nearly 3 percent of all school-age children are taught at home. Homeschooling is one of the fastest growing education trends for K-12 students in the United States.

Research suggests that students benefit from choice. Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee students who receive private school scholarships graduate at significantly higher rates than their peers who remain in public school. Furthermore, parents whose children benefit from private school choice report high levels of satisfaction with their children’s schools, no doubt in some cases due to the higher level of safety provided by these schools.

Step by step, educational options are expanding for students around the nation. Each new school year will hopefully bring with it even greater options for school choice, ensuring that all families can look forward to each academic year with the assurance that their child will be receiving the best education possible.

For more information about school choice opportunities around the nation, see School Choice in America 2011: Educational Opportunity Reaches New Heights.