As a free society, we get to choose where we live, work, dine and shop, yet many parents in this country still don’t have control over where their children are educated. However, the tide is changing…and fast. According to the American Federation of School Choice website, “last year was a historic year for expanding educational opportunity in America.”
In 2021, 19 states passed legislation to expand, improve or develop school choice programs through tax relief, voucher, scholarships, and other aid. School choice programs allow public education funds to follow students to the schools that their parents believe best fit their needs.
What’s the catalyst behind the movement: in part, the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprising. In states that pursued failed lockdowns and school closures, many public-school students were forced to learn remotely for a year or more, depriving them of the quality education they deserve. Parents have been fed up and rightfully so.
According to a June 2021 report released by the American Federation for Children, support from public school parents for school choice increased from 68% to 80% between April 2020 and June 2021.
And in a survey conducted January 3-6, 2022 by National School Choice Week, more than half of parents said that they were considering, or had considered in the last year, choosing a new or different school for one of their children.
“As support for school choice soars, lawmakers are finally listening to families and passing legislation to expand or create new programs to fund students instead of systems,” the AFC website states. As they should as millennials, the largest voting-block in this country, are said to be the biggest supporters of school choice. And they represent the largest generation of parents with school-aged children.
More lawmakers in states with limited or no school choice programs had better begin to pay attention. While the school choice expansion is welcome news for private schools, including Catholic and faith-based institutions, there is still a lot of work to do. Only 13 states have a school voucher program; 18 states have scholarship tax credit program; six states have Education Savings Account programs (ESAs); and two a have parental tax program, according to the AFC website.
But what’s encouraging is that the momentum is there. And in particular, the Carson vs. Makin case argued in the Supreme Court last December is one to watch. Under consideration is whether a 1982 Maine law violates the First Amendment by excluding sectarian schools from the state’s “Town Tuitioning Program,” which provides tuition assistance for students to attend private schools. At the core of this argument over whether parents can use state education funds for sectarian schools is religious freedom vs. separation of church and state.
If the plaintiffs win, it could mean a sea change for faith-based education across the country, pushing the expansion of school voucher programs nationwide. School vouchers, or education vouchers, put control back into the hands of parents who know what’s best for their children. This would give more low-income families the opportunity to provide their children with a high-quality, academically rigorous Catholic education that will put them on a path to success both personally and professionally.
Will taxpayers have to pay for religious education? The Supreme Court might say yes and decide that religious schools have the right to public funding. Let’s hope it does.