By: Brooklyn Roberts
Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By that definition, our current system of education is the epitome of insanity. We all speak of wanting to improve education, but we keep doing the same things over and over again–and getting the same results. You would think that educators, administrators and parents would be calling for a new approach. The problem is that doing something different means challenging the Leviathan we call the U.S. Department of Education.
The buzz in school choice these days is all about charters. Movies like Waiting For Superman and The Lottery have brought greater awareness to the charter movement and given advocates new enthusiasm. So, what is a charter school? Charter schools are public schools that aren’t burdened by the traditional rules and regulations of a public school. They are often tailored to meet the educational needs of a specific group or community. With charters, parents are able to find the school that best meets the educational needs of their child.
Alabama is one of only a handful of states without a charter school law, and it shows when we look at our schools compared to other states. Alabama ranked 45th in the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report. Two states that have the largest number of charter school students, New Jersey and New York, ranked 3rd and 26th respectively. Thankfully, the legislative leadership has made passing a charter school law a top priority for the upcoming 2012 legislative session.
Charter schools are not the only avenue for school choice. Tax credits for parents paying for private schooling are another good way to increase choice in education. Typically, parents are given a tax credit or tax deduction from state income taxes for approved education expenses. This usually includes private school tuition, books and supplies. Some states even go as far as including computers, tutors and transportation.
School voucher programs are another successful alternative. Voucher programs can be set up in many different ways, but generally parents receive a voucher for all or part of the tax money set aside for their child’s education. Parents are then free to send their children to a public or private school of their choice. Some states have means-tested voucher programs limiting participation to those below a certain income level, while other states have voucher programs for parents of children who are attending failing schools.
The bottom line is that more choices in education increases competition between schools. And more competition leads to better schools because schools have to show results in order to attract students. A recent study by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found a strong correlation between school choice and educational quality. States that offer more options in education scored higher in terms of the overall quality of education. Alabama parents have had very limited choice in terms of education, but hopefully that is about to change. The new legislative leadership is poised to take big steps to increase educational options and they deserve our full support. After all, if we keep doing the same old thing, we’ll keep getting the same results and our children will be the ones who suffer.
Brooklyn Roberts is a conservative blogger and activist and Executive Director of Eagle Forum of Alabama. Eagle Forum of Alabama equips citizens with timely, reliable information from a conservative, Constitutional point of view on public policy issues that affect the family. You can follow Brooklyn on Twitter @BrooklynRoberts.