Public school or private? A charter or magnet school? Online learning or homeschooling?
These are the options parents are faced with when their children enter K-12 schools. National School Choice Week, a proponent of school choice, wants to remove the red tape that comes along with these options.
But there's a downside according to the Missouri National Education Association. When a student goes to a school outside of his or her district, the money used to educate that student follows him or her. The same is true when parents get reimbursed for sending their kids to private schools. Opponents to school choice say this method of education can have devastating effects for students who come from economically disadvantaged districts.
Both sides say they want what's best for kids. What they can't agree on is how to get there.
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National School Choice Week begins Jan. 22. There are several programs in our area to help you understand your options.
School choice can be confusing. Read our full interviews with proponent and National School Choice Week president Andrew Campanella and opponent Kurt Swanson with the Missouri National Education Association.
Full Interview with National School Choice Week
41 Action News (41): What is National School Choice Week?
Andrew Campanella (AC): National School Choice Week is a celebration of all of the options that parents have or want to be able to have for their children's education. That is traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online academies, private schools and homeschooling. During National School Choice Week you will see 21,000 events all across the country - everything from open houses to parent information night to rallies at state capitals.
41: What do you hope comes from it?
AC: The goal is simple - to raise awareness of educational opportunities so that parents know that they have these choices for their kids education and if they feel they want or deserve more choices to have their voices heard. What is important now is to see what happened not only at the federal level, but at the state level in 50 states.
41: How is school choice evolving?
AC: What we find is that a lot of different policies when it comes to school choice are not developed at the federal level but instead of the state level. States are the laboratories of democracy. It will be interesting to see whether the president-elect and the new secretary of education encourage states to promote school choice and create new policies.
41: Opponents worry that school choice could hurt economically disadvantaged students. What's your take?
AC: One of the biggest misconceptions about school choice is that it means somehow abandoning traditional district schools. The reality is, school choice embraces traditional public schools, but it also includes other options.
For example, letting parents choose other traditional public schools within the district or outside of it; the creation of public charter schools which are public tuition free schools; public magnet schools which are also tuition free; public online academies; and then there are private schools and homeschooling options.
It's important to have a robust array of choices for families because not every child is the same. They are not all cookie-cutter. What might be a great school for one child might not be a good school for another child. We need to give parents the power, the freedom, and the flexibility to choose the best learning environment that meets the needs of their individual kids.
41: How does school choice improve education?
AC: Research says that when schools compete they get better. When traditional district schools are in competition with other traditional public schools and all different types of schools, public and non public, they get better. That is what we want. We want all types of schools to keep getting better to benefit children.
41: What happens when a student goes to a school outside of his or her district?
AC: We look at education based on what is best for kids. If money is set aside for a child's education and a parent decides to take their child out of one school and move the child to another school, a portion of the per student funds might go with that child to the different school. We are still funding the education of the child.
Full Interview with the Missouri National Education Association
41: What is the Missouri National Education Association's goal?
Kurt Swanson (KS): Students are at the center of everything we do. We want all students to have the best education possible and to have teachers that are dedicated to naturally piquing the curiosity of students to learn. We don't believe that schemes like vouchers or education savings accounts or charter schools work in the interest of ensuring every student has a good quality public education.
41: Why is that?
KS: Private schools, parochial schools, charter schools - they have very little accountability here in comparison to our public schools. And yes, anytime you put money into a voucher scheme of some sort, that takes money away from the local districts that they could be doing to educate the students there and to ensure that the classrooms are well-resourced.
41: What should leaders, be they local, state or federal, do instead?
KS: The better position for our politicians and leaders to work on is fully funding our K-12 and higher education, universities and schools. That is a far better return. The majority of our students are in public education. We should be making public education the best it can be - fully funding it; fully having the resources in the classrooms; ensuring that teachers and all students in the class have a good qualified teacher in the classroom.
41: What do you want parents to know about school choice?
KS: Your parochial and elite schools, they can cherry-pick the best students. [Those students] will excel anywhere. But our public school system is the one that needs the attention of our policy makers. It is the most important function of our state. To say we can take money away from our public schools to fund a few elite private and parochial schools to benefit a very small handful - it neglects the vast majority for a select few. That is poor policy.
41: Why is that?
KS: A cut is a cut. Schools will be forced to make up that lost somewhere else. Every dollar that is taken away and put somewhere else is a dollar left that can be used in that classroom to ensure that they are fully resourced and then the students have every best possible advantage that we can offer.
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