ERSPAMER: School choice helps Louisiana’s moms, dads, and students

Did you know that more than 86,000 kids in Louisiana are enrolled in charter schools and private schools through our state’s various school choice programs?

This is hugely important for Louisiana families – not only can moms and dads choose what’s best for their children, but students are able to flourish in schools that best fit their needs, regardless of where they live and how much money their parents make.

This past week marked the eighth annual National School Choice Week, which celebrates the victories, big and small, that happen every day in states like Louisiana that embrace school choice. Here in Louisiana, thanks to the dedication of parents, legislators, and passionate education advocates, school choice programs are improving the lives of families across our state

This year, more than 32,000 events are being held in support of National School Choice Week that will be attended by 6.7 million people, according to estimates from the movement’s organizers. These events are hosted by people and groups from all walks of life: public schools, charter schools, conservatives, liberals, homeschool parents, and everything in between.

Here in Louisiana, we’re celebrating, too. With events in every corner of the state, National School Choice Week should have particular significance to us. The Pelican Institute for Public Policy is a passionate advocate for school choice. We believe in the power of a quality education and the opportunity that affords for all of our citizens.

As many of our policy and political leaders gather this week at Washington Mardi Gras, they do so against the backdrop of an intense budget debate, ongoing economic challenges, and a seemingly never-ending election cycle. It’s easy to lose sight of some of the ways in which things have improved in Louisiana. One of those bright spots over the last decade has been the expansion of school choice for kids across the state.

The 86,000 kids and their families participating in our state’s school choice programs are a cornerstone for the future of Louisiana.

That’s just a start.

Bringing jobs and opportunity back to the state requires not just tax and economic reforms but also a citizenry educated and ready to work. No doubt, our people are perhaps our greatest asset. But our education system all too often fails us. We can do better.

This means giving parents access to the best K-12 education options for their child. It requires a re-imagining of the way we educate kids. That doesn’t just mean private school choice or charter school programs, though those solutions absolutely must be in the mix. Officials must be open to solutions that provide options and increased access to the best options for each kid, whether you live in New Orleans or Ruston or Lake Charles.

We should swing wide open the doors to innovative thinking. We should consider proven solutions like Education Savings Accounts that give families control of how dollars are spent on their kids’ education. We should let public schools specialize and make it easy for kids and parents to choose the options that best suit them. We should encourage solutions that offer real transparency and accountability for student performance. And, we should remember that not every child learns in the same way or has the same needs, and we shouldn’t try to force them to do so.

In Louisiana politics, progress is all too often impeded by structural challenges in both statute and the Constitution. Innovation is hamstrung by a broken system that is a relic of an era of “One Size Fits All” government that no longer serves Louisiana well. Kids are being left behind, and when that happens it hurts us all.

We have an opportunity to build on some solid progress in education reform. To achieve success means putting kids first and being open to breaking with the status quo.

National School Choice Week gives us an opportunity each year to both celebrate what we’ve achieved so far and look ahead to how we can keep moving forward. Here’s to hoping we continue to have success to celebrate.

Daniel J. Erspamer is CEO of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, Louisiana’s free-market think tank.

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