COMMENTARY: School choice matters for Minnesota families
By Andrew R. Campanella, Blue Mountain Beach, Florida
In our country, we love to customize, whether it's a new addition to the house or the colors and fonts surrounding our text messages. We choose everything, from our line of work to our preferred place to grab lunch, where we probably customize our lunch order. So it's easy to understand why parents want more choices in their children's education.
Parents understand that education options open doors for their children. Every child is unique, with distinct interests and learning styles. Moms and dads know that a school that might work for one student might not be a good fit for another. They know their child best and should be empowered to select the right school.
In many states, Minnesota included, lawmakers have taken action to provide a more diverse variety of school choices for families.
From Jan. 22-28, millions of Americans will raise awareness about the importance of school choice at an unprecedented 21,000 events, including more than 350 events in Minnesota. These events are planned to coincide with National School Choice Week, the largest celebration of opportunity in education in U.S. history.
For families in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, National School Choice Week provides a good opportunity to review the different types of education options available to their children.
Minnesotans can choose traditional public schools for their kids, and the state allows parents, with some limitations, the freedom to choose traditional public schools outside of their existing school zones. This process is called open enrollment, or public school choice.
Minnesota also allows public charter schools, which are tuition-free public schools that are given the freedom to be more innovative. Magnet schools, which focus on themes such as math, science, technology, and the performing arts, are available.
In addition, the Land of 10,000 Lakes is one of 41 states with a tuition-free online academy, allowing students to go to school entirely online.
Of course, parents in Minnesota can also send their children to private schools, and the state offers assistance, in the form of tax deductions, to qualifying families.
Finally, parents have the freedom to educate their children in the home — and more parents are homeschooling their children than ever before.
Seventy percent of Americans support school choice, and January is the time to exercise the choices available to Minnesota families.
Parents who would like to explore their options, whether or not they're happy with their children's schools, should consider exploring in January. National School Choice Week is a great opportunity to visit schools, ask lots of questions of teachers and administrators, and talk with other parents to see which educational options are likely to be the best fit for their kids.
Parents who begin the school choice process in January instead of waiting until summer break will have more options available to them. Depending on which options seem best, parents may need to meet deadlines for applications or scholarships, or they may want to enroll before a school starts a waiting list.
Why is this process important?
In addition to ensuring greater peace of mind, research has demonstrated that when parents actively choose the schools their children attend, or choose to educate their children in the home, high school graduation rates increase dramatically.
A student with a high school diploma will, over the course of his or her life, earn more than a quarter million dollars more than a student who has dropped out. High school graduates are far less likely to be incarcerated, and are six times more likely to participate in community and civic affairs, than individuals without high school diplomas.
Most importantly, though: school choice matters because every child in America has potential. Today's students are tomorrow's leaders, and when parents are empowered to customize their children's education, just as they choose so many other things in their day-to-day lives, great things happen for kids, and for our country.