Celebrate the Ninth Annual National School Choice Week!

Greg R. Lawson Jan 18, 2019

Another year has come and gone and it is time to celebrate National School Choice Week again! This is a week when we celebrate and raise awareness about helping parents find the best education setting that is right for their children based upon their own unique, individual needs.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to testify before the Ohio Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at a public meeting looking at civil rights and education funding in Ohio. There, I called upon policymakers to “fundamentally re-think Ohio’s tried-and-failed approach to public school funding,” and said it is time to “look for ways to better address the academic needs of students as individuals, instead of the needs of schools, districts, and systems that happen to contain students.”

School choice does exactly that—focuses on the student’s needs not the system’s needs. It does so by breaking down barriers—like poverty—that frequently trap students in education environments that do not meet their needs or provide them with the opportunity to succeed.

At one point, Ohio was at the forefront of school choice. In 1990, Ohio created one of the first voucher programs in the nation, which led to the groundbreaking 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, that said vouchers do not violate the First Amendment. That decision opened the door to greater school choice across the nation as other states sought to follow Ohio’s trailblazing path.

But past success does not guarantee future achievements, and Ohio has fallen behind. Today, Ohio has five programs servicing nearly 49,000 students. While this is good compared to where Ohio was at the beginning of the century, it is not good enough.

Approximately 1.7 million students are enrolled in public schools throughout Ohio and we are no longer the national leader we once were. Over the past decade other states have embraced more flexible scholarship programs that allow students and families to access educational settings that meet their child’s needs. Some states have and even embraced education savings accounts, or ESAs, which add more flexibility than the traditional scholarship programs Ohio offers. Unfortunately, Ohio has not has not pursued this innovative policy which we outlined in Education Savings Accounts: Expanding Education Options for Ohio.

However, with a new General Assembly in Columbus and a new governor in office, Ohio has the opportunity to once again become a national school choice leader and adopt ESAs. There could be no better way to celebrate National School Choice Week than by empowering parents to find and afford the education services that best meet their child’s individual needs, and helping them break free from a one-size-fits-all system.

Greg R. Lawson is the research fellow at The Buckeye Institute.