Parents are their child’s best advocate, and as such are uniquely qualified to determine the best education environment for their child. Neither the government nor the school district are qualified to solely make those choices for our children. Granted, there are those professionals who have achieved degrees after years of study, implying a level of qualification to be a considered opinion to the parent in the decision making process, but by no means should they usurp the parent in making this choice.
Over the last year approximately 1.6% of Pennsylvania students moved from traditional district schools to alternative schooling options, among them; learning pods, homeschooling, private, and charter schools. As recently as June of 2021, RealClear Opinion polled 1,762 registered voters on the concept of school choice; 74% were in support. In light of the advancement of the Delta COVID strain, school districts were on their own for months regarding the mask debate, only to have Governor Wolf institute a last-minute mask mandate for all school children K-12, including those in private education. This constant policy vacillation demands that many parents reconsider their education options in the pursuit of continuity, security and safety for their children.
But education choice isn’t just a topic for the days of COVID; it speaks to a much larger construct. Even prior to 2020, 143,000 students across Pennsylvania attended public charter schools, which are non-profits, just as school districts are non-profit. And, as taxpayer-funded schools, charter schools are held to the same standards as traditional public schools - except charter schools also have to jump through many additional regulatory and bureaucratic hoops with their district under whom they charter and the PA Department of Education.
Education choice allows a student and their family to choose a program that may focus on themes and academics tailored to the environment, performing arts, STEM, entrepreneurship, and many others. Education choice allows a student and their family to choose a program that may deliver academic material in the most beneficial way to the student when considering learning style, an IEP, a 504, or family circumstances. Education choice allows a family the option to stay in their community rather than uproot their family and move should the school district change. Education choice allows a family to “talk with their feet”, by leaving a learning environment that is not working well for them to one that hopefully will. Education choice permits a bullied, sick, or injured child to learn in the best environment for their recovery. For some, that environment is home, where cyber charter schooling can be utilized with safety and privacy.
Some would argue that education choice “defunds” traditional public education - this is untrue. An average of 73% of funding for that single child does follow that child to the charter school of choice, but the home school district retains the 27% balance of funding for a child they no longer educate. Charter schooling is actually educating the student on less funding than the district school. For example, the Northampton School District received $18,596 in student revenue in the 2020-2021 school year according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and the 2021-22 Non Special Education Expenditure per ADM for charter tuition was $13,135.22. The school district retained $5,461 of student funding. In another instance, should a parent elect to educate through a learning pod, private school, or homeschooling, that family is responsible for the entire cost of tuition, supplies, personnel, tuition, etc.; meanwhile the district receives and retains the entire student revenue, but the student receives little to no benefit in services from the district.
Parents want what they feel is best for their children and facilitate appropriate choices concerning medical care, food and housing, value systems, community environments, and peer groups. Those providing chosen services are accountable to the parents for services rendered; and education should be no different. Those in positions of education authority in all phases of K-12 education, in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, in the PA Department of Education, and in the Governor’s office need to respect the parent’s ability to make appropriate decisions for their child. The parent puts the child’s needs first and foremost, and it’s time that others did the same.