COMMENTARY: School choice week highlights necessity of providing parents, kids with more educational options

It makes perfect sense but bears repeating: No one knows a child better than a parent. Parents can best understand their children’s moods, interests, desires, dreams and learning styles. More than any government official, no matter how well-intentioned, parents can best determine the school and curricular program that will help their sons and daughters.

Today marks the start of National School Choice Week. We celebrate a movement that has worked to empower parents and provide more personalized options to reflect students’ unique needs.

Over the past two decades, the school choice movement has grown by leaps and bounds by embracing an “all of the above” approach. Providing parents more quality choices allows them to select the one best suited to their family.

School choice comes in many forms.

Nevada has some 40,000 students attending public charter schools, which are taxpayer-funded institutions with more flexibility and accountability than traditional district schools. Traditional public schools which permit open enrollment outside of a family’s neighborhood boundaries offer valuable choices, as do Nevada’s growing number of public magnet schools, often featuring specialized offerings such as arts or the sciences.

Non-public schools also represent an important sector for school choice. Nevada’s 150 private independent and faith-based schools offer important schooling options for students and their families.

Many families opt to join Nevada’s strong homeschooling community each year as well, with almost 1,500 new homeschool students this year in Clark County alone.

With Nevada’s growing economy showing little indication of slowing down, policymakers increasingly see private school choice as an attractive, and more affordable, option for meeting continued population growth with quality school opportunities.

A statewide school choice scholarship program helps households within 300 percent of federal poverty levels pay for a private school of their choosing, or fund transportation or dual-credit offerings at participating charter schools.

Our state also stands at the vanguard of a new school choice movement: Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs. This innovative model allows parents to receive a portion of the state’s per-pupil education funding in an account that they can dedicate toward educational expenses.

Unfortunately, while our state Legislature created the ESA program in 2015, it has yet to provide the funding that would allow the program to begin operations.

ESAs represent perhaps the ideal form of school choice, because they allow parents to customize a learning program to the option, or options, best suited to their children. Parents can use ESA funds to pay for homeschooling expenses, online courses, intense one-on-one tutoring, tuition at a private school — or all of the above.

Parents of children with special needs, in particular, have learned to value the flexibility that comes with the new ESA model in managing their children’s unique educational needs.

As Nevada policymakers and taxpayers grapple to meet the challenges of a growing population, failing to provide additional educational options means that some parents may continue to face the disappointment that comes with seeing their children trapped in chronically low-performing schools by a variety of measures, or in an environment where they cannot learn. Personalizing educational options through school choice will ensure that all children will gain the benefit of a learning atmosphere in which they can grow and thrive.

At more than 30,000 National School Choice Week events nationwide, we will see the effects of personalized educational options on millions of American students. Children with a newfound appreciation for learning will show the joyful enthusiasm that comes from loving their school.

By delivering more personalized educational options for students, we can unlock the potential in every child.

Don Soifer is president of Nevada Action for School Options. Karen Gray coordinates ACE of Nevada, a parent Facebook school choice group.

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