SIMMONS: With parents making choices, bad schools left behind

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Now is the time for all good education advocates to come to the aid of school choice.

It’s National School Choice Week, so pay attention if you truly want a way forward.

The numbers do not lie.

Nationwide, 2.3 million students attend public charter schools and an estimated 255,000 students use tax-credit scholarships and vouchers to attend private schools of their parents’ choosing.

The number of school-age children whose families do not have such options are estimated at 49 million. These are the very children who deserve being turned around because of poor schooling, revolving doors for principals and teaching staffs, school violence, school boundaries and school bullying, and any or no other reason at all.

In other words, from Alaska to Florida and New England to the Bible Belt, families frustrated with the sluggish school reform movement are taking matters into their own hands with game-changers that focus on turning around students instead of turning around schools.

Their by-any-means-necessary efforts, which have long pushed such popular options as magnet and charter schools, and home schooling, are increasingly persuading statehouses to add vouchers, tax credits and online learning to their arsenals in order to boost student achievement and graduation rates and to broaden the definition of school choice.

The governor of Indiana wants the state’s 2011 voucher law to make it easier for military families to receive vouchers, and the governor of Mississippi has proposed scholarships for students in underperforming schools.

Meanwhile, Alaska’s lawmakers are pondering statewide vouchers regardless of a family’s income, the Statehouse in Maine is considering an opportunity scholarship program and Texas lawmakers are weighing tax credits for donors of nonprofits that offer private-school vouchers for poor families.

The District, which has a federally funded voucher program, remains in a rut after voters rejected 89 percent to 11 percent a 1981 voter initiative that would have provided tax credits to families who use their own money to cover tuition for private and parochial schools.

So, even today, instead of allowing parents to put students first, D.C. officials are taking the bricks-and-mortar approach, arguing that closing schoolhouses and renovating schoolhouses will turn around schools.

In Texas, did a new start-of-the-art stadium make the Dallas Cowboys a Super Bowl contender?

In the nation’s capital, did closing and consolidating 23 public schools in 2008 make students any smarter, increase graduate rates or raise the academic impacts that teachers have on learning?

Let’s face it, either a school fits a child or it doesn’t, and the power to decide where a child is educated rests with parents and guardians.

Here’s how the U.S. Supreme Court put it in a parental school-choice case in 1925: “The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State.”

I rest my case, for now.

Close to home

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray wants to rebuild an amphitheater in Langdon Park and name it as a memorial to go-go Godfather Chuck Brown, who died last spring.

The proposition really has the mayor wound up; taxpayers and businesses not so much.

Why?

The typical government carrot-and-stick approach.

Much-needed public safety, traffic, restrooms and other upgrades to Langdon Park Recreation Center are tied to the plans for the amphitheater.

No new Chuck Brown amphitheater, no upgrades.

Residents and homeowners who live near and visit the park, located in Ward 5, love Chuck but are not keen about the apparent take-it-or-leave-it offer.

Several angry residents at a public meeting Saturday said the Gray administration is beginning to resemble that of his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty, a fellow Democrat who lasted but one four-year term.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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