As the summer comes to an end and children put on their backpacks and lace up their sneakers for the new school year, let’s look at what kind of school system they are entering.

More Spending: $11,800 per Pupil

Education expenditures have reached new heights. This year, the national average for per-pupil funding exceeds $11,800 annually—that’s $500 more per student than last year and a 50 percent increase since 1996. At this rate, a child entering kindergarten today can expect to have no less than $153,400 spent on his or her education by high school graduation. The total expense to taxpayers for K–12 education exceeds $591 billion this year. Yet, despite large increases in per-pupil spending, educational achievement has hardly improved.

More Government: $75 Billion Pre-K, $16 Billion Common Core

As spending increases, so does government control of education. Two initiatives currently being pushed by the Obama Administration are universal pre-kindergarten and the Common Core national standards.

Last December, the Department of Health and Human Services found that the federal pre-kindergarten program, Head Start, proved a flop—despite the taxpayers spending over $160 billion on the initiative since 1965. Now the Obama Administration wants to expand to preschool for all. President Obama has proposed an initiative to enroll all four-year-olds in government-subsidized preschool. The price-tag: $75 billion, including $1.4 billion for Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships.

Students are also going to be coming home with new textbooks this year. The federal government has been using federal dollars to push states into adopting Common Core national standards since 2009. Forty-five states have signed on to the standards, agreeing to fully implement them by 2014–2015. Most of these states are already seeing implementation problems, and many are attempting to bow out of the standards. This initiative has a projected $16 billion price tag over the next seven years and is also costly in terms of educational liberty.

More Choice: 220,000 Students Eligible for Education Savings Accounts

Despite the looming further federal encroachment into education, the new frontier of educational opportunity is blossoming. Governor Jan Brewer (R–AZ) signed the nation’s first education savings accounts (ESA) program into law in 2011. The ESAs were originally available only to children with special needs, but this year they were expanded to include children in active-duty military families, foster care, underperforming schools, and kindergarten.

ESAs allow eligible families to use 90 percent of the funds the state would have spent on the child to be deposited into a savings account and used to customize the child’s educational options. This means ESAs save taxpayer money and empower parents with educational choice. This school year, over 220,000 children are eligible to receive a customized education through ESAs.

Today, America faces a fork in the road. One direction is toward increased centralization of education and government spending; the other is toward greater educational choice. Reform is in the air as parents send their kids back to school. The path American citizens take will dictate what type of schools their children will be heading into for years to come.