- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2013

America’s educational system is leaving behind anyone who starts with disadvantages, and that is wrong. Those born in poverty already face significant challenges. For those striving to climb the ladder of success, we must fix our schools.

The question then bears asking: What is the best way? Let’s start with what we’ve tried.

We have cut classroom size in half and tripled spending on education, and still we lag behind much of the world. We have moved control from the local level to the federal level. We have passed No Child Left Behind, which has not worked, and which most teachers I speak to would like repealed.

What we have not done is return to local control, nor have we embraced the power of competition.

Let’s start by agreeing that a great education needs to be available for everyone, whether you live on a country club lane or in government housing.

I am convinced this will only happen when we allow school choice for everyone, rich or poor, from any background.

Let the taxes you pay for education follow each and every student to the school of your choice.

Competition has made America the richest nation in history. Competition can make our educational system the envy of the world.

The status quo traps poor children in a crumbling system of hopelessness.

In my home state of Kentucky, only two of Louisville’s 18 persistently low-achieving schools meet required measures for progress. Five Jefferson County schools have shown “zero” progress over the past three years. This is a terrible, shameful, immediate crisis. Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday calls this situation “academic genocide.” I agree.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University call high schools with such dismal graduation rates “dropout factories.” We have too many of them. We should have none.

Clearly, current policies are failing families and students. No one should be forced to endure this crisis. We must act now to fix our schools. If we don’t, many students from disadvantaged neighborhoods will continue to be left behind. The status quo traps many in a crumbling system of hopelessness. That’s a sobering fact that we need to meet head-on.

In America, poverty should not destine a child to educational failure. Instead, we all should have access to a great education, whether we live on a country club lane or in government housing.

I believe equality in education will only be achieved when we allow school choice for all: rich or poor, white, brown or black. Let the taxes Americans pay for education follow every student to the school of his or her family’s choice.

School choice should be an obvious solution, and it need not be a partisan one.

Let’s give families and students control over their future. Let’s give them the option to pursue a better learning environment, instead of trapping them in a setting where they are destined to fail.

Let’s incentivize our schools to compete for students, compete for education dollars and boost innovation.

Public charter schools should be an option in providing school choice. Charter schools are independent schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative than traditional public schools, while being held accountable for improved student achievement.

For those striving to climb the ladder of success, we must fix our schools.

This is about a fair shot in life. And it is painfully obvious that too many students aren’t getting one. Instead, unfair policies are dooming them to failure.

When every child can, like the president’s kids, go to the school of their choice, then will the dreams of our children come true.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Homeland Security committees.

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