The 7th grade class in Highland Park, Michigan’s school district was given an assignment: Write a one-paragraph essay on “what could make the school better.” Former Alabama congressman Artur Davis, who celebrated National School Choice Week at The Heritage Foundation’s event “Choosing to Succeed,” presented a particularly alarming response:

[Y]ou can make the school gooder by getting people that will do the jod that is pay for get a football tame for the kinds mybe a baksball tamoe get a other jamtacher for the school get a lot of tacher.

The student who produced this paragraph at the end of the 7th grade was passed into the 8th grade despite being unable to form a coherent paragraph. While a jarring example, two-thirds of 4th graders are not proficient in reading, as defined by the National Assessment for Educational Progress.

“Some children are not getting from their school what they deserve. So what do they do about it?” said Davis. “There are some places in the country where a child like Quentin could get a voucher.”

“Last week happened to be the President’s inauguration,” he said. “I didn’t hear a sentence, not a sentence, in that speech about 13-year-old children who can’t compose their thoughts for a paragraph.”

State leaders across the country have the opportunity to pursue reforms like school choice. Davis said this educational crisis represents a “strategic opening” for conservatives, because failing schools affect ordinary people every day. Giving parents control over their children’s education can significantly improve their lives.

“We need to make this about basic philosophic points. Do we trust parents to have the best interests of their kids in mind?” he said.

In 2011, 12 states created school choice programs. Now, more than 250,000 children and their parents can pursue an education that better fits their unique needs, said Heritage education expert Lindsey Burke, who hosted the event.

“When it comes to how we finance education, we should be funding children, not physical school buildings,” she said.

Davis said that where school choice has been tried, the outcomes have been positive for entire communities. Burke has summarized the research on school choice in a 2012 Heritage report originally published by The Atlantic:

[I]n nearly every study, the students who participated in school choice showed marked improvement (and no study showed any negative impact on their achievement). But 18 out of 19 studies also showed that in areas where school vouchers were offered, students who stayed behind in public schools also had improved outcomes. The competitive pressure improved public school education in those communities as well.

Davis emphasized that school choice “is the beginning of the conversation, not the end of the conversation.” For him, school choice is about getting children the education they need right now, instead of simply pouring more money into the program or waiting for some new reform plan.

In celebration of school choice week, consider The Heritage Foundation state-by-state breakdown of Choices in Education.